Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Borneo death march route, re-traced

"Below us I could see the river. During the war this was a serious torrent, and the weakened solders were forced to try and cross, many were too weak and were swept away to their deaths."

My guts churned, and I felt hollow. A glazed look sweeps across my face as my mind struggled to cope with things. I was truly shocked, not at all for the first time on this journey, but I figured I’d become more or less immune to the whole story by now, as I’d researched most of the horrific details over a long period of time.

We’d stopped off at a stall in a small, near anonymous village in the north of Sabah, Borneo. We were loosely following the routes of the horrific Sandakan death marches of the Second World War, and were in a spot that was used as an impromptu stop off during the marches, where thousands of prisoners of war were force-marched to their deaths.

I was told the story of a local man who had recently passed away, he was enforced as a cook to the Japanese captors, and told the tale of how he was once forced to cook two prisoners for the soldiers to eat. By this stage they were so malnourished that their was no flesh on the bones, so he was told to take out and cook the intestines, it just beggared belief, but it was true and documented along with so many other atrocities.

Our ride was around 250km and 3 days in all, along a mix of jungle jeep roads, palm plantation trails and some hard core. This was more or less along thee lines used in the marches, although many things have changed since then, so conditions are nowhere near as harsh today, and we also chose to skip the impenetrable jungle scrambles, which were near impassable with a bike, and also to skip some of the road sections where logging trucks make conditions treacherous.

The port of Sandakan, is situated on the north coast of Borneo, and was used heavily by the Japanese during the war, and was where they shipped in and initially held the POW's. All in all there were some 2600 POW’s shipped to Sandakan between 1942-43, mostly all Australians, and a fair amount of Brits. They had mostly been captured during the fall of Singapore, and others from the Philippines.

This made the town the obvious starting point for the route, and we literally rode out from the remains of the POW camp, where many were to meet their end.

Maybe you wonder why we did this ride? Well, it had not been followed by bike before, and had a real sense of purpose. There were just 6 survivors from the marches, all of who escaped to safety, and it was the worst atrocity ever in Australian military history, and one of the worse crimes of the war.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Borneo death march route, re-traced

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sarawak tourism promotions to continue despite airline disasters

KUCHING: The Visit Malaysia Year and Visit Sarawak Year 2014 campaigns will continue despite disasters involving three airlines in recent weeks.

Minister of Tourism Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released a statement that the recent air disasters have not brought down the level of confidence among air passengers around the globe.

“Air transportation is just another mode of transport. It is just like a car where accidents can happen anytime and anywhere. Yet we still drive around in our cars,” Abang Johari told reporters at his Aidilfitri open house on Monday.

He said it was very unfortunate for Malaysia Airlines to suffer from the downing of MH17 and the missing flight MH370 this year.

“After the downing of MH17, I am sure that the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will review the whole airline industry,” he said.

Abang Johari said IATA and ICAO should review the current flight paths of the airline industry and come up with a pre-warning system to avoid airlines from flying above areas deemed unsafe.

The Satok assemblyman said he had personally met with the immediate family members of MH17 victim Tambi Jiee, who was killed on board along with his wife Ariza Ghazalee, and their four children Alif, Afzal, Marsha and Afruz.

“They (family) are strong and patient during this hard time. They have also relayed their confidence that everything will be sorted out soon,” he added.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Ba Kelalan ripe for fame and fortune in eco-tourism

BA KELALAN: The tourism potential in this heartland of the Lun Bawang is not fully tapped yet and Penghulu George Sigar Sultan believes that the future of the industry is bright indeed.

When met recently at his village in Long Ubau, which is about 9km from Buduk Nur where the BAT IV has been staying for the last five days, Sigar said for the tourism industry to reach its full potential, both the community and the government must be willing to work as partners.

“Since our environment is basically intact and unspoilt, we could easily market it as a green tourism product,” said Sigar.

He said one of the tourism products in the area, the homestay, has attracted at least 22 participants in the whole of Ba Kelalan area which is made up of nine villages.

“And as the centre of the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) in Sarawak, the pilgrimage to the holy Mt Murut has become a special tourism product among the locals and foreigners,” said the former civil servant.

He also opined that as the centre of ‘Formadat’ (‘Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo’ or ‘Alliance of the indigenous peoples of the Borneo highlands’), Ba Kelalan and Bario in Sarawak and Lun Bawan in Kalimantan, has created a niche market by promoting the green environment to the international community.

“We want to preserve our forest so that we will continue to be the lungs of Sarawak and Borneo. With that in mind, I am sure we can tap its tourism potential as much as we could without destroying them,” said Sigar who is also Formadat chairman.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Ba Kelalan ripe for fame and fortune in eco-tourism

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Restaging a local arts extravaganza in Kuching

SPECTACULAR! Delightful! Magical and of a professionally high standard.

These words are among the audience’s descriptions of the Life in the Jungle ballet production this past January.

In response to popular request, this local arts extravaganza will be restaged in Kuching this August.

The multi-faceted production, involving more than 150 local youth performers from LayNa Ballet Academy, Institute of Teacher Education Batu Lintang Campus and the Sarawak State Symphonic Orchestra (SONS), made its three-night debut in January at the former Legislative State Assembly building in Petra Jaya.

The proceeds of RM65,000 raised from individual and corporate sponsorships, as well as ticket and souvenir sales, were donated to Sarawak Kidney Association, Community Based Rehabilitation Centre and Kuching Society for the Urban Poor.

This restage will feature differences from the January production. Besides benefiting a different group of local charities – the Lions’ Club Cornea Transplant project, Meeting Needs and the Sarawak Kidney Association – the restage offers a better audience experience.

“One of our biggest challenges has been to improve the audience experience in a cost-effective way” said Megan Chalmers in addressing the difficulties of viewing the stage from the back parts of the performance venue.

“We are, thus, going to raise the audience up on platforms hired for the event to improve their view of the show.”

The performers, ranging from ballet dancers, vocalists and narrators to instrumentalists and cultural dancers, after having spent countless hours rehearsing for the January show, are now eager to reunite in bringing alive this Iban legend for Kuching audiences once again.


The ballet is based on the works of Heidi Munan and Julia Chong for an operetta of the same name, staged 30 years ago in Kuching.

In 1984, vocalists from the Polyhymnia Choral Society told the story through Munan’s witty libretto put to Chong’s music with live musical accompaniment, provided by Marcus Leong’s orchestra.

In January, in memory of the 30th anniversary of Chong’s passing, 100 ballet dancers portrayed the Iban legend of the Pong Kapong bird through Chan Lay Na’s choreography, aided by a 30-member choir under the direction of Chong’s daughter, Pek Lin, together with a full symphonic orchestra conducted by Leong’s son, Victor.

Anthony Wong provided the orchestral arrangement of Chong’s music and made it complete for the ballet with additions of his own compositions, working closely with the three directors.

Two narrators strung together the three acts of the ballet with their lines based on Munan’s script while more of their ITE Batu Lintang colleagues grounded the audience in a Borneoan experience through their roles as cultural dancers, actors and instrumentalists.

The costume and set designs, headed by Chalmers, further enabled the performers onstage to internalise their roles as inhabitants of our local rainforests.

Following the January production, the committee received numerous exaltations from members of the audience.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Restaging a local arts extravaganza in Kuching

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sarawak records slight increase in tourist arrivals

KUCHING: Sarawak recorded a slight increase in the number of tourists arrivals in the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year.

Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip announced this during a press conference at Kuching International Airport yesterday.

“There is an overall increase of 7.59 per cent of tourists coming to Sarawak from January to April 2014 compared to the same period of time last year,” he said.

“A total of 1.5 million tourists visited Sarawak this year from January to April. We are confident that the number of tourists will increase as the economy’s environment is still fine.”

He said the number of foreign tourists increased by 2.3 per cent while domestic tourists rose by 17 per cent in the same period.

Talib said the state is optimistic the tourism industry will continue to grow based on current trends.

Meanwhile, he said close cooperation between the state government and MASwings has helped with Sarawak’s tourism development.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak records slight increase in tourist arrivals

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Miri aims to be ‘the most liveable resort city’

MIRI City Council (MCC) recently launched its new five-year corporate vision (2014-2019) to make ‘Miri the most liveable resort city’.

Its mayor Lawrence Lai said the new vision was launched by Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem during the Miri City Day dinner recently.

Lai said the first corporate vision for MCC was to make Miri vibrant and green when he took over as mayor in 2009, adding that both visions were formulated as part of the council’s effort to build a soul and identity for Miri.

“We would like to create our own identity. If Kuching is a garden city, Bintulu is more known as industrial city, Miri has been designated as a resort city.

“As for the Miri community, we can also do something to make Miri different and we would like to make it liveable,” he said recently.

Lai explained that the new vision had three strategic thrusts – clean and green, vibrant and safe as
well as community and culture.

“MCC started with the green initiatives with its campaign ‘Say no to Plastic Bag’ on every Sunday, with the days then increased to every Friday, Saturday besides Sunday. Since 2010, the campaign is implemented every day.”

Apart from the ‘Say no to Plastic Bag’ campaign, Lai said the council had also implemented other campaigns such as ‘Say no to Styrofoam’ by encouraging the community to use paper boxes, containers and cut down the use of anything that is made of plastic.

“We also hold green expo every year whereby we invite NGOs, government bodies and schools to promote green products.”

As a resort city, Lai said it is only natural for Miri to be safe as well as to have a lot of vibrancy and events, adding that Miri was among the first cities to hold street party in Sarawak.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wild Encounters: Sabah, Borneo

Avid naturalist and outstanding local guide Jame Marajan gives us an insight into the incredible wildlife the rainforests of Sabah have to offer.

Originally from the small town of Sandakan in the northeast of Sabah, Jame Marajan has guided travellers through the Bornean rainforest and along its waterways for the past 17 years. With a focus on the east, Jame has become an expert on this ecologically rich region, with regular visits to the lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Gomantong Cave, Selingaan Turtle Island and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The lower Kinabatangan river is an extraordinary area of 26,000 hectares that is home to the largest wildlife concentration in Southeast Asia. Jame talks to us about the land he knows so well.

What wildlife do visitors to the region typically see?

Well, more than 100 different species of mammals have actually been recorded, from the smallest Bornean pygmy squirrel to the largest Bornean pygmy elephant. There are over 200 species of birds, including all eight species of hornbills, and more than 100 species of reptiles, including snakes, soft shell turtles, estuarine crocodiles and lizards. Proboscis Monkeys are endemic to Borneo, and we have macaques and wild orangutans too. These are all species that people can actually see when they visit.

And what is your most memorable wildlife encounter?

A few years back, I was trekking with two American tourists by an oxbow lake when a Borneo pygmy elephant bull suddenly appeared about 10 metres away from us. It was shocked to see us there and the same goes for us. In fact, both parties were so shocked, we all ran a different way.

Do you have a favorite species to spot?

My favourite animal has alway been the snake, as they're such fascinating and primitive creatures. Even now, so little is known about their habitat, breeding and behaviour. But, I also like to see the clouded leopard and Bornean ground cuckoo because appearances are so rare.

What challenges have you faced guiding people through the rainforest?

Once, when I took five Canadian students trekking through the jungle, I saw a nest of stinging bees. I pointed to it and warned them to keep away, but one of them reached out and poked it, after which they all ran in different directions. I managed to gather them up after half an hour, but the student who'd poked it got stung five times and I did once. Imagine if it had happened in a denser forest. That's my worst so far [laughs].

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Wild Encounters: Sabah, Borneo

Monday, July 21, 2014

An Adventure at the Sabah State Museum

When was the last time you went to a museum?  I can’t remember the last time I went to a museum – probably 5 years ago.  The kids were still small, so they can’t remember it, too.  The only thing that I can vividly remember about the visit was the very cold temperature inside the museum.  I think there was a huge skeleton of something, but I can’t recall what it was – obviously, I need to revisit the place.

Sabah State Museum

So during the recent school holidays, we dragged our kids, ranging from 5-15 years old, to the Sabah State Museum.  We figured that all kids need such visits in their memory – at least one memorable trip to the museum, in addition to the zoo, the park, etc.  Our teens were reluctant (museums really need to update its image), but the younger ones were excited.  I estimated the trip to last about 1 hour or less, but we ended up spending more than 4 hours there, and we could have spent a whole day if not for a previous engagement.

It turned out to be a fun time for us all – lots of walking, a bit of hiking, visiting houses, getting mosquito bites, viewing paddy field, admiring water lilies in a pond, getting on railway trains, sitting on and in classic cars, etc.  And all of those memorable adventures were on the outside of the museum building.

Perched on a hill, the Sabah State Museum’s main building was opened in 1984 and it is architecturally inspired by the longhouse.  Located about 5 minutes’ drive away from Kota Kinabalu City centre, at Jalan Muzium, it can easily be seen from the road.  It we take the bus, it is merely 5 minutes’ walk away from the bus stop.  Notable buildings near to the Museum are Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, MUIS building and the Wisma Kewangan.

We arrived before the Museum opened, so the areas were not crowded.  We noticed peculiar scents coming from some of the plants gracing the area.  We found out later that the plants around the Museum grounds are not mere eye candy, some of them are actually part of the Museum’s ethno-botanical garden.  The plants consist of local medicinal and food plants – mostly herbs, I guess.  I am hopeless at differenting between the grass, weed or the herb.

Trains & Lepa Pasil

After we paid for the entrance fees, we decided to visit the surrounding areas first before entering the main building.  It was early in the morning, so we figured that when the air becomes too hot to endure, then we’ll march into the air-conditioned part of the Museum.

We started our adventure in the outdoors with the old train with wooden compartments.  The kids loved climbing up and down the dear thing and it really looked polished.  Then there’s this beautiful life-sized model of a sailing boat (perahu layar) called Lepa Pasil from the Semporna District from the East Coast of Sabah.  It has nice intricate motives carved onto it.  Would you believe it – these type of boats used to sail around the small islands of Borneo, Philippines and Indonesia.  What a daring feat!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: An Adventure at the Sabah State Museum

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sutera Harbour – Luxurious 5-Star resort in Kota Kinabalu

Sutera Harbour is a luxurious 5-star seafront resort, facing the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park islands. It is strategically located between the airport (10 minutes drive) and Kota Kinabalu (KK) Town.

There are two hotels, The Pacific Sutera Hotel (500 rooms) & The Magellan Sutera Resort (456 rooms), catering to all types of travelers, be it business travelers, families, honeymooners or groups of friends. This 384-acres resort also houses 5 swimming pools, a private beach, a full facility club house, a 104-berth marina, a 27-hole golf course, 14 dining options and 2 international spas.

Trivia: The resort had been built on reclaimed land back in 2000 by then-CEO and founder Datuk Edward Ong. As at January 2014, the ownership has been transferred to GSH Corp Ltd.

As mentioned in my previous post, the car ride from the airport to the hotel was barely 10 minutes! Together with the red carper priority, this has been the fastest plane to hotel transfer ever.

For the first two nights, we stayed at The Pacific Sutera Hotel. It has an air-conditioned lobby with a bar and live band performances at night.

We had a room on the 10th Floor (Total 11 Floors), which had a really nice view of the marina. The room and toilet is very spacious. There was also a welcome fruit tray at the coffee table.

One of my favourite part of the room is that it has these folding windows which allows you to watch TV from the bathtub =D Since  I was the only one in the room, I folded the binds and turned the channel to Nickelodeon and watched Spongebob from my bathtub.

Housekeeping has been really kind to rilakkuma this trip. Every time I return to my room, rilakkuma is always neatly positioned within my sight. (This is my first time bringing my bear along with me to a full service hotel.)

We had our buffet dinner at Cafe Boleh, Level 2 at The Pacific Sutera. Since it was about 8:45pm, we had a very good environment for photo taking =) The spread is pretty decent.


Pullman Kuching serving Best of Kampung Flavours during Ramadan

KUCHING: Pullman Kuching is serving the Best of Kampung Flavours for its breaking of fast buffet during this Ramadan month.

Diners can expect a sumptuous spread of traditional delicacies and classic flavours, making it an ideal choice for ‘berbuka puasa’ with family and friends.

While the traditional element is retained, Chef Matan and his team of culinary brigade have also sprinkled a touch of creativity on several time-honoured recipes.

Daging Kari with keribang, Udang goreng samball petai and Ayam masak merah bermadu are some must-try traditional Malay dishes.

Another specialty, the Sarawak Laksa and Kolo Mee is one that drawns much attention, as most of the Kuchingites said it is the best Sarawak Laksa in town. Sitting atop a mound of flavourful briyani rice is the Kambing bakar berempah carved up into succulent slices at the last minute to ensure its juices remain inside.

Other dishes to look out for include the Ketam Masala, Ikan Merah telunjuk goreng berempah tepung, Sotong goreng tepung and Badar Ayam goreng tepung.

Those with an eye on their health can toss up their own Ulam-ulam Kampung, or pick from a variety of readymade salads.

There are a lot of varieties of snacks, such as papadoms and fish crackers. Otherwise, make a beeline for the action stations where you’ll find Roti Canai with Murtabak or simply make your own plate of Ikan Bakar.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

SEA for Ourselves: Borneo Again

We awoke to bid farewell to Ketapang. We had liked our stay, surprisingly. We returned our motorbike, and were each driven to the airport via motorbikes  –in my case driven by a craaazy driver. Our departing flight was an hour late, which allowed me time to sit with the others to watch a World Cup game -something I did whenever possible of late. Indonesia was as caught up in it as anywhere.

After an hour’s flight we arrived in Pontianak, where this entire adventure had started 2 weeks earlier. It’s a small airport, but busy. We were immediately met by a pleasant young man who offered his help for our getting to Putusibau or Sintang. Though Pontianak sits on the mouth of 2 large rivers, he claimed that there were no longer boats that went where we were headed. We nearly agreed to let him take us to the bus station for a long ride eastward until we learned it was an overnighter -with non-sleeper seats. Mutually passing on that opportunity is a sign that we’re getting older. Besides, everything happened too fast, and our options were still unclear, and we couldn’t believe that our newish Lonely Planet book could be so wrong.

Three hours later -we still sat, dejectedly at a small cafe table, taking turns setting off to ask varied agents questions or to doublecheck schedules and tripplecheck destinations– we finally let go of the entire pursuit, vowed to line everything up better next time, and decided to do the next best thing: go somewhere new. So we bought plane tix to the island of Java, giving us 2 days to explore Pontianak first.

A crazy, rush hour taxi ride to a cheap room chosen from our book gave us our first detailed look at Pontianak. It’s big, flat, not especially attractive, and the streets very busy. We also learned that motorbikes are not popular because thefts are common (this helped explain the car congestion), and that they are not rented out. Ugghh. Our 3 story hotel was hidden behind a motorcycle shop, which one needs to pass through to reach the lobby. The hotel and our room was surprisingly nice, and quiet. After settling into our room, we set off in search of dinner at a short list of Lonely Planet recommended restaurants.

One of my complaints against LP is its maps, and scale. We walked a looong way that first night, asside noisy traffic and upon unkempt and uneven sidewalks, only to find the place closed down. So back we walked -and then some- until we finally reached our second choice restaurant. It was a large, plain, stark, vacuous room, with office furniture tables and chairs given a second life. It did a great business as a popular seafood restuarant. (The next night we sat in another vacuous restaurant, one much more elegant -but were the only customers).

Our breakfast was at a nearby corner place that was packed with locals. We immediately drew attention and stares -and (me) flirty comments and glances from the young staff women.  : )  A guitarist and violintist wandered amongst the tables playing beautifully together. I appreciated their rendition of “Yesterday” and they appreciated it when I said “Kemarin!!” (yesterday) and tipped into the little sack attached to the guitar neck.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: SEA for Ourselves: Borneo Again

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Damai Beach Resort in Sarawak is Perfecting Its Public Spaces

The Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, especially the area surrounding the city of Kuching.

A short drive outside the city sits the Sarawak Cultural Village and Mount Santubong, where you can learn about Iban longhouses and explore the exotic wildlife of the rainforest.

There are a number of hotels in Kuching that are very affordable and within a 45-minute drive, but if you want to stay on the coast, the area's flagship resort is the Damai Beach Resort in Sarawak.

It recently underwent a series of refurbishments that included upgrades to the main pool, children's pool, and dining areas, and further renovations are taking place as we speak.

Damai is in the midst of adding a new ballroom and parking facilities, which it hopes will attract more events to the property.

One other addition that's not being advertised but we saw while on site is the addition of a swim-up bar in the main pool.

The property and location, which you can see an aerial shot of here, is definitely one of its shining attributes.

Nicely tucked between the coast and the rainforest, Mount Santubong towers up in the background, which is an especially nice view when swimming or kayaking in the calm waters of the South China Sea.

There is a pretty significant tide effect on the beach, so definitely be prepared to use the pool at certain times during the day (we're guessing that the tide is one reason they decided to redo the pool).


Amazing Sarawak: Matang Wildlife Center

After enjoying a delicious feast of the famed Sarawak Laksa, and stopping for torches in Kuching’s city center, we all jumped enthusiastically into our car which was now pointing its nose in the direction of the Matang Wildlife Center, based in Sarawak’s pristine Kubah National Park.

Along the road to Matang we were exposed to the raw beauty of Sarawak and Kuching in particular.

We heard fascinating stories and all about the city’s “White Sultan,” Sir James Brooke, an Englishman who was said to have named Kuching after the wild cats in the area (Kuching means cat in Malaysian).

Around 35km after leaving Kuching we arrived at Matang Wildlife Center. Which is exactly that, a wonderful wildlife facility that looks after the regions spectacular animals and provides valuable human assistance to the protected animals and unprotected animals nearby.

Though the team at Matang have other responsibilities, the main program at Matang is of course Orangutan care and rehabilitation.

They use a variety of techniques to raise up abandoned and orphaned Orangutans with the ultimate goal of successfully reintroducing these guys back into their natural habitat.

As you can imagine we were extremely excited to get the opportunity to see these adorable creatures once more.

The other, equally impressive, species at Matang include Sun Bears, Sambar Deer, Civet cats, Sea Eagles, Horn-bills (of all varieties), the Bornean Gibbon, Crocodiles and more.

Unfortunately by the time we checked in the day was lost to travelling (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise) so we enjoyed some free time and headed down to the river which we heard had a few rock pools.

We were so hot and sticky that the disappointment of not seeing the Orangutan’s vanished at the opportunity to spend some time in the cool river. 

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Amazing Sarawak: Matang Wildlife Center

Never a dull moment in the Kelabit highlands

THE Kelabits’ first contact with the outside world was a rather rude awakening for them.

It came at a turbulent time when Tom Harrison and his team landed in the Bario Highlands as a covet force to resist the Japanese occupation of Sarawak during the Second World War.

It was equally a cultural shock – and language barrier – for Tom Harrison even after spending time learning about the traditions and customs of the Kelabits and picking up their vocabularies before he made the landing.

Tom Harrison wrote in his book World Within: A Borneo Story:

“The effect of my verbal attempts upon the good man were entirely negative. Indeed, less that that. For instance:

Me: Kita Kelabit?

He: ……

Me: (Tapping his chest and looking winsome) Kelabit-kau Kelabit?

He: Ekor? (meaning you).

Me: (getting over-excited, thumping him and pointing all around) Kelabit? Kelabit? KELABIT?

He: Bah.

We had a lot of that Bah, which I could not grasp was attached to several words – to mean the longhouse in which he lived, the plain on which we stood, the people around.

The BAT team also had a cultural shock – albeit of the occidental variety – while sharing a meal with a Belgian couple who checked into the Ngimat Homestay on the second day of our arrival.

It was a five-dish meal served with rice. Two steamed fish in the menu was brought out in a fish-shaped plate.

The Belgian husband was quick to scoop a whole fish onto his plate – much to amusement of the BAT team.

Perhaps, the man was thinking the fish was the main dish. If so, and it looked pretty much like it, we didn’t really mind his apparent lack of meal-time etiquette as perhaps an infrequent traveller to this part of the world.

In fact, we were more concerned about the Belgian diner getting bogged down by the drudgery of dodging the small sharp bones in the Semah fish he was eating. After all, he could end up picking bones and missing out on what should be a delicious meal.

As he started to eat, his wife realised the fish was meant to be shared and began nagging him in their language but from the body language, we knew she was “teaching” her man a lesson in table manners.

Red as lobster, the man tried to put the fish back onto the plate. We quickly assured him it was completely all right for him to have the whole fish.

Then came the cultural shock! After he was almost done, the man put the near skeletal remains of the whole fish – head, tail and bones – back into the main serving dish!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Never a dull moment in the Kelabit highlands

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Postcards From Borneo: Chasing Orangutans

My boot slips in the mud as I chase down the hill after the orangutan. I duck under thorny rattan vines as I scramble over roots and rocks that jut out of the earth in the most unexpected places. We are chasing after a young female orangutan named Walimah as she charges down the steep slope.

We are in Borneo at my mom’s research site where she studies wild orangutans and my dad photographs them for National Geographic.

The field assistants who work for my mom following orangutans have to get up at three in the morning to get to the orangutans before they wake up. The orangutans sleep in nests that they build every night out of leaves and branches up in the trees.

Even though I love to follow the orangutans, I’m glad that we don’t have to stay out from before dawn till after dusk when they go to sleep. They are really cool animals and it’s funny when you see them behave in a way that is so similar to humans, like when they make ‘umbrellas’ out of lumps of leaves even though they probably keep less than two percent of the rain off.

But now, I’m slipping and sliding over the slick wet leaves, I grab small trees around me to keep myself from falling forward on my face as I race after Walimah as she sprints through the canopy.

Even though we don’t think of orangutans as particularly fast animals, when they want to they can be super speedy. Finally Walimah decides to give us a break and settles down in a big tree overlooking the river at the bottom of the slope. I swat away a group of bees hovering around my head and pull my binoculars out of my backpack.

I peer through them at Walimah. She is grabbing food with one foot and using her hands to shove it into her mouth. Unlike most mammals who have four feet, orangutans practically have four arms. All their limbs are long and their feet look a lot like hands.

With longer fingers than humans on both their feet and hands, orangutans are perfectly adapted for swinging through the trees. If they want, an orangutan can hang upside down from a branch using only their feet.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Postcards From Borneo: Chasing Orangutans

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Sandakan, Borneo

Orang is a Malay and Indonesian word for “person.”

Hutan is the Malay and Indonesian word for “forest.”

Thus, an Orang Utan is “a person of the forest.”

The endangered orangutans are the exclusive Asian species of great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located about 200 miles east of Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, East Malaysia.

It’s a very slow and difficult drive which includes a steep mountain range, heavy logging traffic, and treacherous roads. 

We rented a car and our 10 hour driving adventure included a flat back tire, a blown front tire, torrential rain, washed out pavement, and mudslides.

The centre opened in 1964 as the first official orangutan rehabilitation project for rescued orphaned baby orangutans from logging sites, plantations, illegal hunting or kept as pets. 
Today, both orphaned and adult orangutans are trained to survive again in the wild and are released as soon as they are ready.

The sanctuary is located within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve which covers an area of 11,000 acres, much of which is virgin rainforest.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Sandakan, Borneo

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Homestay thriving business in Bario, thanks to rise in tourist number

BARIO: The increasing number of tourists visiting Bario over the years has motivated almost every household to set up their own homestay.

However, most of the operators prefer to operate the business an ad-hoc basis and only 12 homestays are managed professionally.

One of the leading operators, Scott Apoi Ngimat, 47, who operated The Ngimat Ayu House Bario said the continuous promotion by the Tourism Ministry in promoting Bario and its homestay programme was among factors that attracted more tourists visiting Bario.

“The Tourism Ministry is actively promoting Bario homestays. Besides, most of our guests know us through word of mouth from their friends who have stayed with us before,” he told BAT IV Team when met at his homestay here yesterday.

Scott, who has been operating the homestay for five years, hoped there would be more transportation to bring tourists to Bario to enable the local homestay industry to develop further.

“The challenge to bring tourists to Bario is transportation. Hopefully, there will be more flights coming into Bario in the next few years.

“For the time being, tourist arrival to Bario is not consistent. Sometimes we have more and sometimes we have lesser guests.”

Currently, MASwings operates two flights on normal days and three during festive seasons. A trip by land from Miri to Bario takes 14 hours through logging track.

Scott said their main homestay guests were Westerners apart from a few locals and those from Peninsular Malaysia.


SEA for Ourselves: ReBorneo

Have you rented the Ring of Fire documentary series yet?! The fascinating villages and indigenous people depicted in the Borneo segment still exist. Narrow boats still glide along narrow rivers, through dense jungle, past orangutans and tribal villages with long houses and incredible tribal rituals, customs and ceremonies. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

We’d been talking to our travel-mates and reading up on our options ahead of time. It would be more difficult than hoped to get to Sintang or Putupissau, where the boats are, but then Jennifer found a way. We said our final goodbyes to Anna and Lorna at their hotel in Ketapang (following an interesting 90 minute, front-seat drive past countless villages and interesting glimpses of typical West Kalimantan. Nothing extraordinary, except that it was extraordinary. Such diverse lifestyles on this planet).

We headed straight for the small airport, where we’d spend far too much time at over the next few days. Every flight was full for days -to anywhere. And just piecing that information together was seriously challenging. The small ticket desks were sometimes staffed but often not. Their hours were not consistent or clear. Different people said different things. One person suggested taking the overnight long boat from the small jetty, but we’d already suffered that sort of experience and neither of us wanted to repeat it.

I drew a simple picture of the boat we feared it was, and the local woman there validated our fears. We brainstormed in the small warung across the street where my “Mie Goreng” was just boiled packaged raman (Good thing I like that sort of thing). Realizing that our Plan A was falling apart and that we’d need to spend the night there, we set off to find a room, and a motorbike.

Both were crummy, but good enough for starters until we traded both in the next day. Our room was in a strongly felt Muslim hotel: Muslim staff (friendly); Muslim breakfast (6:00 – 8:00); Muslim Call to Prayer at odd hours; and stickers on the ceiling that pointed to Mecca, to help with the daily prayers.

We returned to the airport, which was a lost cause. Same struggles. Same non-answers. We’d do this several times each day, trying to get help and find a way out. One time, we attracted the attention of someone who phoned the airline representative at his house. He came to meet us at the airport -seemingly happy to help. He arranged a flight for us, and as we were about to hand him the money, he said he needed to check something and would be right back.

We sat in the empty airport and waited for his return, and waited, and waited. After nearly 2 hours, we realized that he was not coming back. It’s not in the Indonesian culture to say “no”. This was just one example of several that we’ve experienced where an Indonesian would rather leave us sitting there indefinitely than tell us something can’t be done.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: SEA for Ourselves: ReBorneo

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How to Properly Dress for a Trip to Borneo

Adventure, wildlife, fun and outdoors – those are the words that you can associate what a trip to Borneo is like.

So in order to make the most out of your trip, it is best that you know how to properly dress so you can easily blend into the crowd.

You’ll also know holidays to Borneo and what you as need to bring to be prepared for what awaits you in the jungle wildlife in Borneo.

Here are a few tips on how one should pack his bags before heading on to see the orangutans or trek Mount Kinabalu:

  • You will want to dress modestly if you want to blend into the crowd. Shorty shorts, tube and tank tops, backless dresses aren’t recommended. Sure, it is tropical in Borneo, but you will want to skimp on those clothing – this is not Hawaii anyway.
  • If trekking the rainforests of Borneo is on your itinerary, then be prepared to dress correctly. The rainforests are very humid and you will be saying hello to a lot of leeches, so the more skin you cover, the better. It is best to wear comfortable trousers and long sleeved shirts. For added protection, tie or clip your trousers around the ankle to prevent nasty leeches from getting in. This is one of the important holidays to Borneo that you need to know.
  • It is best if you concentrate your clothing on mostly trekking or outdoor clothing. Since humidity in Borneo is accountably high, pack clothes that are made of lightweight fabrics. Long trousers and long sleeves will also protect you from the abundant mosquitoes too.
  • If you are more on the luxury side and you have booked at hotel resorts, dress code is more relaxed. You will find holidays to Borneo that you can pack a sexy dress, a shawl and those glitzy flip flops.


The Best Things To Do In Borneo

Being the world’s third largest island, Borneo not only offers rich marine life, but also beautiful and untouched lush green forests filled with heterogeneous wildlife that you may have never seen before.

Here are the best things to do in Borneo information that you are going to need on your vacation:

1. Climb Mount Kinabalu.

Never fail to trek Mount Kinabalu if you visit Borneo. Never ever. Challenge yourself to climb the highest peak in South East Asia and be amazed by the heart stopping and breathtaking sceneries at the very top.

Be prepared to be surprised and terrified by leeches, snakes and other wildlife along the way to the top.

Stop and admire the beauty of the world’s largest flower, if you are lucky. It is very rare and it only blooms for a couple of days before completing wilting away.

See the different species of pitcher plants and orchids that look like the gods themselves carved it out.

2. Dive in Sipadan Island.

Being one of the islands with the richest marine biodiversity in the whole world, Sipadan Island is a heaven for the marine lovers and diving enthusiast.

See bursts of color from over a thousand fishes and swim along with the manta rays, turtles, barracudas and some other fishes.

Diving in Sipadan island will never be absent in most diver’s bucket lists and in any things to do in borneo information website.

Continue reading (Incl. Vid) at: The Best Things To Do In Borneo

Monday, July 14, 2014

Five Reasons To Visit The Island of Borneo

Every person has various of reasons why he/she prefers to spend the holidays in Borneo. Too many people, Borneo may serve as an escape from reality, a spiritual hideaway, a place to unwind, and solitary refuge for those with weary souls. This article will, however, tackle the five main reasons why people from all over the world choose to spend their holidays in Borneo.

Borneo takes pride in its lush rainforest, rich tribal culture and a highly diversified wildlife. To be more specific, here’s a list:

1. The eccentricities

Alright. Every country, every place has its own oddities. But Borneo surpasses them all. Cat lovers should start rallying now and head to one of the Borneo’s cities, Kuching. Kuching must have been born out of the Malays’ great love for cats. Every nook and corner of the city are inundated with cat effigies of different sizes, colors and shapes. There’s even a cat galley solely dedicated these furry friends. Tourists can salivate over 2,000 exhibits of cat paintings and sculptures combined.

2. The people

If you love people and their way of life, spending the holidays in borneo might be the best choice for you. One of the widely known tribes in Borneo, the Penan, has a very interesting culture and getting a glimpse of how they live in one of the most isolated areas in the world would certainly prove to be insightful and an eye opener for those who are used to living in the urban areas.

Immersing in the Penan community is not only a wonderful experience, but it would also give the tourists helpful ideas in surviving the wild. Please know, however, that meeting the Penan tribe would be difficult because they’re located deep into the forest. Tourists need to fly to Long Lellang and depending on the situation; they also have to sail on a canoe just to visit the Penan’s settlement.

Aside from the Penan tribe, there’s also the Kelabit community which is nestled in the far flung areas of Sarawak. Like the Penan tribe, they also have a very rich culture and it can be witnessed through their dances.

3. The Food

Borneo might not be the world’s leader in terms of cuisine superiority. But the thing is, as a tourist, you want to try something new. And Borneo can give that to you. Most of Borneo’s delicacies are infused with recipes and cooking techniques from India, Malaysia and China.

Borneo meals are usually seasoned and garnished with unique rainforest herbs and spices. Examples of these herbs and spices are NasiLemak, KoloMee and Ambuyat.

If you’re up to it, you can also try eating durian. Durian is a fleshy, milky fruit that is usually described by the aficionados as “the fruit that smells like hell but tastes like heaven.”


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Highlighting Santubong’s natural heritage

THE Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB) will hold its signature nature event — the Santubong Nature Festival — for the second time in November. It is hosted by the Permai Rainforest Resort and supported by the Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) and the Sarawak Museum Department.

Open to the public, the festival will run from Nov 8-9.

Kuching North Datuk Bandar Datuk Abang Abdul Wahap Abang Julai officiated at the festival’s soft launching at Taman Budaya (Reservoir Park) last month.

The Santubong Nature Festival aims to highlight the rich heritage of the Santubong peninsula, from its visually stunning appearance, to the rare clouded leopards and hornbills that call it home, right down to the dolphins that swim its shores.

It also advocates a holistic and integrated approach to development and management of the area, safeguarding its unique landscape, biodiversity and historical assets, and showcases the tourism and recreational potential of the Santubong peninsula.

Following last year’s festival’s success, the two-day event will continue to highlight Santubong peninsula’s natural, historical and cultural heritage.

Exciting activities such as multi-sport treasure hunt, guided heritage, geology and nature walks, tree planting, guided boat cruises and a beach clean-up will be held between now and the festival proper. This includes a series of talks on geology, archaeology, dolphins and biodiversity of Santubong, which will be held in Kuching and Permai Rainforest Resort. The first guided geology walk was held yesterday.

MNSKB has been carrying out many activities, particularly bird-watching, in the Santubong peninsula for many years. These regular bird-watching activities eventually resulted in Bako-Buntal Bay, which forms part of the Santubong peninsula, being included in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Site Network last year. Bako-Buntal Bay is the first flyway network site established in Malaysia and one of the world’s Important Bird Areas.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Highlighting Santubong’s natural heritage

8th Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration: Five-star glitter for a traditional festival

SINCE its inception, the Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration has been held at a grand hotel and attended by more than 1,000 guests from Sarawak and Sabah.

Both the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and its counterpart, the Kadazandusun Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sabah) (KCCI), have been taking turns to organise the event, starting in Sabah in 2007, as a way for members to network and foster national integration.

This year was again Sarawak’s (DCCI) turn to play host – on June 28.  And it was suggested a longhouse be chosen as the venue this time around. But could a longhouse provide a five-star ambiance for the joint celebration – the 8th in the series?

The answer was found after much soul searching when DCCI leaders decided on a longhouse at Nanga Sekutan, Sabuah (Bintulu) — and the honour went to Rumah Miekle (pronounced Michael) Ding.

The recently completed Rumah Miekle Ding is touted as a five-star 24-door longhouse – not without good reasons.

Situated on a hill facing the towns of Kemena and Sebauh diagonally across the river, it is modernly equipped and also built of concrete – possibly the first of its kind in the state in terms of structure and design.

In fact, to many who visited Nanga Sekutan in the first half of the year, Rumah Meikle Ding is already a five-star longhouse with all the trappings of a modern dwelling place — water supply, electricity, air-conditioning, modern fixtures and utilities and such like.

Besides, a belian jetty by the river where many longboats are berthed, gives the longhouse an elevated status.

Rumah Miekle whose achitecture is impressive – and cars can be driven right up to the entrance — is also the home of Kemena assemblyman and Assistant Minister of Public Utilities Dr Stephen Rundi.

The people of Bintulu are very proud of this special longhouse which has produced 71 graduates, eight of whom are medical doctors, including the assemblyman himself.

Guest of honour

For the 2014 Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration, Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem was the tuai pengabang (guest of honour). The idea was well received not only by DCCI members but also the Ibans of Bintulu.

Adenan had earlier also launched the new Sebauh ferry crossing the Kemena River from Sebauh town to Sekuan.

The celebration theme this year was Rural transformation through cultural integration. The setting in a real longhouse was most meaningful to the 1,000 guests — and perhaps another 1,000 local well-wishers.

The programme included a parade of six Kumang Gawais from the state and 10 Unduk Ngadau (Kadazandusun beauty queens) from Sabah. Iban delicacies such as pantu shoots and local veges were served.

Sebuah is a sub-district of Sarawak, about an hour’s drive from Bintulu town. Part of it was settled in 1886 by the Skrang Ibans with the permission of the White Rajah not long after the Krakatua volcano erupted in Java, Indonesia.

Policy of Rajah

The Rajah’s policy was to populate all parts of Sarawak with people keen in agriculture, particularly rice cultivation.

Sebuah is made up of a few Chinese shops (some are still the old wooden shops) and government offices, and is home to the Iban, Chinese, Melanau, Malay and Orang Ulu.

There is a secondary school — SMK Sebauh — a Chinese primary school and a local government-run primary school in the town.

Sebauh produces good lumber — and a sawmill is still operating across the river just before Sungei Sebauh branches out from the Kemena River. Sungei Sera, in turn, branches out from Sungei Sebauh, further up in the ulu.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Island Adventure in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

On the third day of our trip, we went on an island experience tour at the famous Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. This Marine Park is one of the key activities (apart from Mt Kinabalu) that tourists would visit as part of their itinerary when visiting Kota Kinabalu.

These are 5 islands are actually not very far from mainland. It is only a 10 to 15 minutes boat ride and the current is usually very calm.

Gaya Island is the biggest island, at 15 square kilometers. Apart from the usual greenery, it is home to a less-spoken-about community in Sabah – the (illegal) Filipinos, who were mainly refugees. While we were in the cruise/boat, we were steered away from that area and I did not manage to take any photos of that area.

It’s funny how the other side of Gaya Island (beyond the water villages at the eastern corner) is also home to luxurious and beautiful resorts. In fact, the zipline which I will be taking later starts from Gaya Island.

Sapi Island is the most popular island among all 5. It is home to white sandy beach and crystal clear turquoise water. It is also the starting point for the zipline.

Pulau Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug are the three other three islands. Sadly, we did not have time to explore them.

We started off our journey at a private jetty which only caters to tour customers. The tour company engaged for this trip was Borneo Passages. They had arranged an itinerary with Borneo Reef World, a floating pontoon which was opened specially for us. We were given a wrist tag with our names at the jetty and we went to the pontoon via speedboat as their bigger boat was under maintenance.

Borneo Reef World houses Asia’s largest pontoon (flat bottom boat) which is anchored to the seabed. To comply to the rules of the Marine Park, they actually shift their pontoon every 3 months to allow sunlight to reach the bottom of the seabed. It is a pretty big pontoon and I think it can accommodate 200 people without any issue.

After reaching the pontoon, we deposited our bags. We were all ready for our first adventure of the day – Para-sailing, followed by Zipline. The GM’s suggestion was a brilliant one as it was not very crowded during the earlier part of the day.

We departed on a speedboat for our para-sailing. Initially, I was a little hesitant as had not been part of the itinerary. Usually, when it comes to high elements like this, I would need some mental preparation. Not wanting to be spoil sport, I hid my fear and accepted the challenge.

If you have tried the ones in Thailand (Phuket/Krabi) or Bali, it’s a little more high tech and safe. You don’t have to run or fly/land from the beach. Instead, you sit down comfortably on the hull of the boat.

Using the retractable string system which is fixed onto the boat, you will lift off from the ground comfortably while sitting down. Before take off, you can indicate your preference of getting wet or staying dry to the boatman and he will give you your desire. The takeoff was very smooth and gradual and I was given a splash of water (thigh deep if I’m not wrong) just for the thrill of it. It kind of scared me off initially as I didn’t expect it to be right at the start.

The parachute will rise slowly and steadily, determined by the speed of the boat and also the adjustable tension of the string. Boatman was nice to me and my time up in the sky did not have much “turbulence”. If the boatman is playing a punk, knowing that you are adventurous, they might steer their boat in such a way which may make your stomach/heart go queasy.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Island Adventure in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Rainforest World Music Festival - Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo

The only remaining headhunters wear suits and work in corporate offices but Sarawak "Where adventure lives" does have wonderful beaches, remote tribal villagers living in longhouses, rare primates and of course the phenomenal Rainforest World Music Festival now in its 17th year.

Being a second timer I had a better understanding of what to expect at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong, but first I was scheduled to attend the second Borneo World Music Expo in Kuching.

Kuching - Cat City

Kuching is popularly referred to as "cat city" because the Malay word kuching means cat and sure enough there are lots of cats, be they pets, stray animals or statues of various sizes scattered around town.

The Waterfront, a 1km or so pedestrianised area along the Sarawak River is the place to stroll, meet people or simply hang out. there are pleasant views over the river to DUN( State Assembly Building), the Istana and of the traditional trambang boats ferrying people around.

I ate dinner at the lovely James Brooke Cafe where a cat statue has pride of place in the garden and period furniture, books and ornaments augment the dining area.

At the Hilton Hotel I registered for the Borneo World Music Expo which under guidance of consultant music industry guru Gerald Seligman, brought in international concert and festival programmers to network, participate in workshops and potentially book the local and Asian artists.

Opening the expo Dato  Rashid Khan CEO of Sarawak Tourism Board eloquently explained that "holding the event in conjunction with the Rainforest World Music Festival would help Sarawak climb the value chain from leisure based events to business tourism events"

The intimate nature of the expo ensured great access to the musicians who showcased their works onstage and chatted about their dreams. Interesting snippets of information revealed that two performers of the Mah Meri group from Carey Island in West Malaysia had never left their island before; Korphai from Thailand met on Facebook and rehearse online, seldom live and Geng Wak Long from Kelantan found it difficult to perform in their home state because religious intolerance restrict their female member from being on stage.

Highlights included an energetic performance by the Barmer Boys from India, beautiful harp playing and songs by Aye Su Kyaw from Myanmar and Tuku Kame, the house band at the Cultural Village performed their dynamic blend of traditional and contemporary music with great style.

Expo wrapped up with a 20 minute speedboat ride to Kuching Wetland National Park where we kept a wary eye out for crocodiles as we waded in knee deep water to plant mangrove trees to re-green the former bed of the Sarawak River which had been diverted to stop "winter"flash floods in Kuching. We played a small but meaningful part towards minimising our carbon footprint.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Borneo Wildlife Corridor proposed to enrich gene pool

KUCHING: A proposed ‘Wildlife Corridor’ linking protected areas from Kalimantan to Sabah could help boost the rich ecosystem of Borneo.

World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) head of conservation Dr Henry Chan said the fragmented and scattered locations of biodiversity in Sarawak would limit the gene pool of animals.

“Even though we have national parks, animals cannot move out or breed among other species, therefore the gene pool will be limited, and this would even jeopardise their health.

“This proposed landscape connectivity or corridor will help with the migration of animals,” Chan said in a presentation at the ‘Youth Green X-Change Programme – Talk on Sustainable Development’ held at Azam Conference Room, Azam Complex in Jalan Crookshank here yesterday.

The transboundary corridor from Sebangau National Park to Mount Kinabalu National Park will also help the government and private sector to expand these areas.

Chan said the idea for a Wildlife Corridor was broached by the Sultan of Brunei during the ‘Heart of Borneo’ meeting last year, and that implementation would be carried out in stages.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

SEA for Ourselves - Borneo to be Wild

Shortly after our return from Singapore, an unexpected travel opportunity landed on our lap. A friend of friends had put together a 5 day eco-tour test run to West Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, and wanted a small group of lucky guinea pigs to try it out and give feedback so that she can tweek it and offer it as a way of exposing outsiders to the beauty, and varied environmental and cultural issues and battles going on in this small nook of Southeast Asia.

We barely had time to repack, but were excited by the chance to see Borneo, which had long been on Jennifer’s short list of most desired destinations. Borneo is one of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands, and the world’s 3rd largest after Greenland and New Guinea. It lies due north of Bali across the Java Sea. This trip would take us to the western coast of one of its regions, West Kalimantan. Lorna was our tour guide. Her life has been split between Indonesia and the UK., and she’s well versed in the language and cultures of Indonesia, and cares deeply about its welfare and people.

There were 6 others that rounded out our team. Three of them were journalists, specially sought out by Lorna so as to write about the varied issues that we were destined to learn about. I first met one of them, Stephanie, in my Ubud writers group a few months ago, just as she and her photographer husband David had published a beautiful travel book, Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage, that chronicles a dozen extraordinary adventures they took into the far reaches of Indonesia. They sat behind us as our flight left Jakarta for Pontianak, and I discovered that our in-flight magazine featured an article about another one of their adventures!

That first night was spent at a beautiful retreat. It was a chance to meet Lorna, share some beers, savor one last nice bed and bathroom, and get a good rest -which we’d need. The ruggedness of this trip began the next morning, as we climbed down into our long speedboat for a nearly 5 hour trip to the southern coastal village of Sukadana. This was how the villagers travelled. Every seat was taken. Lots of cargo piled on top, and the passengers crammed in below into small, hard chairs absent of leg room -at least to anyone taller than 5' 11. The wide muddy river was lined for miles on both sides with corrogated tin shacks, blocky buildings, stillted wooden houses, colorful boats, and worn out piers.

Eventually this poor urban scene gave way to what would become the accostomed scene for the duration: lush green riverside; distant mountains; occasional jetties; passing barges of minerals and palm oil; small motorboats; and river water that changed from brown to blue to green to rust, over and over. We sat behind the driver, who alertly steered us around and through a constant sea of floating logs and bobbing objects -at a high speed. Periodically, the boat would bounce for a spell across choppy water, and often this was quite uncomfortable. We made one stop for a quick lunch at a pier-side series of food stalls in the middle of nowhere. I spent most of my time admiring the natives and their wares and stares and riverside world.

We eventually arrived at our destination, Sukadana, found our rooms, set down our small backpacks, and piled into a van. We were driven to meet with the founders of Health In Harmony at their small, bustling medical clinic established inside Ganung Palung National Park. Dr. Kinari Webb began studying orangutans there 15 years ago as a biology student, and recognized the link between the destructive forces of the loggers upon the environment and their desparate need for health care. She and her biz partner Hotlin Ompusunngu, developped a unique program called ASRI to provide free health care -and job training- for those villagers willing to give up their logging. Plans are now afoot to build a small hospital there.

In lockstep with ASRI is a program run by an Illinoise transplant named Erica who addresses the deforestation issues directly by creating a barter system for supplies, native handicrafts, and labor. They also organize tree-planting efforts and act as forest guardians. To see Health In Harmony in action and to hear these women talk about what they do was very moving and impressive. Jennifer and I felt in the company of heroes. We shared glances. Could this be our calling, as volunteers? Turns out, not without medical degrees.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo to be Wild