A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia

4000 meters high? Pah!

-17 °C

Ahhh. Malaysia. Understandable(ish) public transport system, paved roads and food that has not been fried to the edge of existence. Malaysia brought all the familiarities of the Philippines but somehow quilter, less hectic and far more understandable. Some would say that it lacks the raw unbridled soul of the Philippine Islands and I would agree, but for the time being I am enjoying the fact that bus journeys do not require back and arse surgery when completed.
More adventure was calling and that took the form of Mt Kinabalu the highest Mountain in all of South East Asia. We were determine to see it's peak and were aware that it was possible without Edmond Hilliary-esque experience. You could even do the climb in a day if you were up to it. It stands at over 4200 meters above sea level. The air is thin and the climb is straight up all the way through jungle and granite slopes. We thought our selves as keen hikers, the Andes and Bolivia were easy. We Laugh in the face of a piddling 4000m altitude.We had been a over 5500 meters with no ill effects and climbing mountains was what the Inca trail was all about so we should be fine.
Or so we thought.
The first part of the climb was as expected. All up hill.steep_slope.jpg Tough on the calf muscles and thighs. It was all going swimmingly until the last Kilometer of the first 6k. It all got a little hard. The steps got steeper and the air thinner. with no time to acclimatize to the altitude our heads began to pound and legs started to give way. Relief was finally found at the camp just 3k from the peak that would be tackled in the early hours of the next morning.
As we are on a budget we went for the unheated room/shack. It was a fine little home for the night with enough room to swing even a mid sized cat and a view that only paintings could recreate at lower altitudes. You could have the buffet at the larger compound at the camp if you paid the premium but we lugged all our own food up with us. We were the only ones to do so and in a strange sort of way we got some more kudos for the other climbers for doing so. Noodles and tinned mushrooms never tasted so good.hut.jpg
The assent to the summit started at 3am in the dark and cold. It was only 3k more but even steeper than the day before. We were aiming to get to the summit as the sun rises. Massive granite slopes arched before us, so steep were some that we needed to pull ourselves up by ropes trying not to notice the drops that loomed black and menacing beside us. Only our torches illuminated the way. Climbing a mountain at 3 in the morning is not as fun as you may think it is. At every step it became harder but the will to get to the top was strong and after 3 hours, sometimes scrabbling on our hands and knees to get a better purchase, a lot of cursing the gods, and whoevers idea it was to do this, we reached the top.top_of_the_world.jpgM_view.jpg
It's funny how soon you forget the hardship of a climb when you set eyes one of the most life affirming views you will ever see. The sun was just starting to make it's way to the heavens and what looked like all of Malaysias beauty had woken up with it. We were as high as you can ever get in this part of the world on foot. From this height we could even see parts of the Philippines. Smiles and hugs were in order and all the other climbers seemed to be enjoying the moment as we were. The euphoria was only slightly broken with the thought that , once up we have to go back down. The way down was to be done in one day. No camp to rest at for the night just down, down, down.M_view_2.jpg
Going down hill soon became tougher than going up. All the same muscles we wore out had to be called up again with a few new ones to pull and work as well. By the end of the descent Sues' legs had decided to not take direction from her brain and were performing some kind of ministry of silly walks tribute. My legs and stopped being legs, but some kind of jelly. When we finally reached the bottom, instead of resting we jumped on a bus for 4 hours to our next destination for some R&R. I the next few days our legs had never been so sore. We really couldn't walk. Even the smallest steps, up curbs seemed to much for us. You could see other travellers wincing and grimacing on ever step and instantly new that they were of a kindred spirit (or fool enough to take on a mountain). We would nod in acceptance of our shared agony. It took over 3 days before our legs started seem normal. Mine still ache a bit now.
The next chapter of this Malay adventure seems altogether less painful. We have seen no so wild Orang-utans at a rehab centre and even seen wild ones out in the jungle. But that can wait until our next entry.

Posted by DanSue 00:01 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

More Philippines

Birthday fun

sunny 35 °C

After seeing more aquatic life than mermaids we decided to see what other land based animals live on these islands. We weren't disappointed. We found one of the cutest,ugliest and most bizarre looking little primates this world has to offer. Known as the worlds smallest monkey the Tarsier can only be found in Philippine Jungles. We went to a Tarsier conservation centre to see these wonderus little beasties and managed to get quite close.monkey_fingers.jpg tre_monkey.jpg
After the beaches, the madness of Manila and bone breaking Jeep rides my birthday was also to be found in the Philippines. Sue managed to find a great hotel to see in my oncoming old age and we arrived somewhat eager to see what it was all about. The Hotel promised that some rooms had private swimming in them and they weren't lying. Our room was normal size room on the face of it but then you pulled open a sliding door to reveal a small pool only a few feet from the bed! The mineral rich water was pumped in from wells heated by nearby volcanoes' and we had a whale(excuse the pun) of a time splashing around this crazy room.9pool.jpgdanpool.jpg We only left to have dinner in the nearby restaurant next to a lake. The food was great but at 9pm exactly a swarm of little black stink beetles descended upon us. Only a few at first but by ten past the hour it got a bit biblical. Smelly bugs started falling in out food, on our table and in our hair. They smelt like rancid aluminium if squashed. Lucky for us we had just finished our meal so it didn't matter that they were doing the backstroke through my curry.
Between the pool and the stink bugs we had a grand old time. A birthday I will not soon forget.
The Philippines held many surprises, I met a old school friend of mine who now lives in Manila and also a friend of Sue's who were both happy to show us the ropes in that great city. "The ropes", I was happy to find out was a lot of good food and beer..Thanks Tommy and Drew!
We said our goodbyes to that crazy group of islands and made our way back to Malaysia.

Posted by DanSue 01:55 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

The Philippines

sunny 34 °C

We've been in the Philippines for almost 3 weeks now and have spent a large proportion of that time on transport. As there are so many islands, we've been alternating between busses and boats. Some of the islands where we've been don't have sealed roads, which makes the going pretty bumpy, especially hard with a full bladder, as Dan will testify to! I've lost track of how many bus and boat journies we've taken, some days we rack up 4 or 5.

My favouritte transport has to be the jeepneys, which are long extended jeeps which people, bags, crates of fish etc clamber into, to sit on long seats along each side. They're all individually decorated and really colourful. They're really cheap and stop anywhere you ask along the route they travel. To ask to stop you bang on the roof with your hand, or use a coin on some metal to attract the drivers attention. Some people appear to carry a coin in their ear for this purpose (either that or I've just worked out how that magic trick where people pull money out of your ear is done!).

By far the most eventful journey we've had involved a jeepeny journey, which in dry season should take maybe 4 hours. It took us 9 and we had to get out of the jeepney to walk several times, while they pulled and winched us out of the mud.mudtruck.jpgmudstuck.jpgmudwinch.jpg I still don't know how we both managed to get so muddy, as we were following others to walk through the muddy parts, but at times we both ended up sunken in mud up to our knees - no-one else seemed to have mud anywhere else but on the soles of their feet where you'd expect it. One guy even had a white bandage on his foot which didn't have a speck of mud on it. I manged to flick mud up into my hair and when Dan lost his flip flop sinking in knee deep mud, without really thinking it through I plunged my arm in up to my elbow to find it - I had to dig around for sometime and nearly got runover by the approaching jeepney in the process, but I managed to retrieve it, only to find it had broken with all the pulling and he had to throw it away anyway! There were only stagnant pools of water to wash in, which we sunk even deeper trying to approach, so we had to climb back on the jeepeny covered from head to toe in Mud. The whole bus found us hillarious and those who hadn't seen teh best part of us actually sinking in the mud just roared at how muddy we were anyway. By the time we'd got out our wet wipes and at least cleaned as much as we could off with 3 inches of damp cloth, we'd arrived at another muddy section and had to do it all over again. Luckily we passed a stream at the end of this one, which the driver suggested we might like to get into!

To get around towns there are tricycles, which are motorbikes ot bicycles with a sidecar attached on. As tourists we have to barter hard not to pay many, many times what the locals pay. They're good fun to ride on and are all individually decorated, with lots of praise be to God on them.

I've just realised how much I've just written about transport and will try to think of a few other things we've done here.

Karaoke is really popular and taken very seriously. There are Karaoke machines everywhere, even on ferries and you can walk past people's houses and hear them singing along, seemingly alone. Christmas is also a very big affair and people have already started to wish us a Happy Christmas, although I guess back home, decorations and Christmas ads must be about to start soon now we're in October.

We've spent a lot of time on the coast snorkelling and diving. There are some amazing reefs and everytime we've been we see new, weird looking, brightly coloured fish. We also snorkelled with a coral snake, which was beautiful.snake.jpg Dan says they're very venemous, but only bite if you get really close and poke them. We didn't poke it and it didn't bite us, so I guess it must be true! We also saw the biggest fish I've ever seen, which was about 1.5 meters long (Dan says it was nearer 3). It's the first time we've been diving since we learnt in Brazil and it was good to go again before we forgot everything we learnt.

We've just been to the chocolate hills, which much to my disappointment their only link to actual chocloate is that they go brown at certain time of the year - I thought I was heading to chocohollics paradise!
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As with every Country we've been to, Dan has people telling him he looks Philippino. Also several people a day shout out Bob Marley. Dan's been trying to remember some famous South-east Asians to shout back, but so far can't keep up. Me, I'm just a Dimdim, so never get lookilikees!

Posted by DanSue 23:09 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

Singapore and Malaysia

You burn the leeches off you.

sunny 27 °C

After the tropical tranquility of PNG we arrived in Singapore. What a difference. The noise, the traffic and even the every day use of electricity hit us like a slap in the face, screaming,“ welcome back to the modern world!” By all accounts Singapore is probably what every city aspires to be. Dramatic, multicultural and ruled with an iron first of fines and incarceration if anyone steps out of line. This is what it’s all about it’s just we forgot how to deal with it.
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Catching Singapore answer to the tube, the cleaner more efficient MRT we soon got into the swing of things in this brave new world. There is ever shade and shape of people from all over Asia crammed into this city. A mix of Chinese and South Indians with the rest being Malays all flowing about the city, seemlying all getting on famously. People take of Singapore being the “Fine” city. At first I though this to be a complement until I found out they mean they fine you for everything. fines.jpg As cosmopolitan as it first may appear Singapore has very strict rules and no free press. It’s all taken care of by the democratically elected government.
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You can escape the sterile nature of the city by visiting Little India and China Town. These place look like forts of anarchy surrounded by enforced order. We stayed in Little India and did most of our eating in China Town.
After three nights in Singapore we headed off to Malaysia and the Oldest Rainforest in the world Taman Negara. The arrival into the Jungle was fantastic. 3 hours on a boat going upstream. This rainforest has been untouched by the ice age and other earthly destructive forces so Sue and I decided an 11k trek, one night, and 11k back all unsupervised was in order. There was a sketchy path laid out to make our way out to a hide deep in the jungle. The first day went swimmingly. We saw monkeys, bush pigs lots of birds and a monitor lizard. We had the jungle to our self until we reached the hide 6 hours later. There were another 8 people who arrived, all talking loudly completely negating the point of a hide. You’re supposed to hide ...…do you see…hide! We didn’t see anything more that night.
Sue and I left at first light for the 11k trek back to leave our noisy friend behind and get a chance to see more jungle beasties. It rained during the night so the going was tough and slow. Sue had also picked up a stomach bug during the following day and now it was taking sweet revenge for the tenacity of thinking she could eat just one more dim sum. It was very hard going. It was hot and humid and we had to put on the same clothes and we had sweated in the day before so we smelt like death. Leaches taking ever opportunity to suck more blood out of us, Sue becoming weaker on every step and still over 8K to go. It was looking grim but Sue some how found the strength to walk on. Lets just say that there were times Sue had to, “leave her mark in the Jungle.” Sue also got a leech on her bum and I got one……Somewhere else.
For all the second days trials we still thought it was all worth it. We saw a lot of animals and we were the only ones who did the trek without a guide and the walk back. The others took a boat back we later found out.
Back to Singapore for one night then on to the Phillies. We'll be returning to Malaysia in due time.

Posted by DanSue 03:37 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Further Adventures in Papau New Guinea

The March of the Dimdims

rain 35 °C
View Itinery on DanSue's travel map.

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After a month there, PNG has become one of our favouritte places and we're already planning to return some day when we've saved enough! We spent this trip on the coast, where people live the same way as they have for many hundreds of years, growing, or catching their food, carving canoes from trees and keeping their cultures very much alive. There are over 800 different languages spoken in PNG. When we return, we'd like to visit the highlands, where the majority of the population lives.
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Most people thought Dan was from PNG. Whereever we travel in the world, people think Dan's from there - maybe he should become an international spy?

It's hard work to travel round, as due to the mountains there's very few roads across the island and flying is expensive. We travelled mostly by boat, spending up to 3 days on one with no beds, and having to sleep on our bags or on the docks where we stopped at night. sleeping_on_bags.jpgMany of the boats only come once a week, so if you happen to arrive in the departure town a day too late, you're there for the week. We travelled to closer places by canoe, or small boats with motors on, which was a lot of fun. People travel shorter distances by PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles), which can be buses or boats. There's no timetables for any of this, so the way you find out when and where they go is by asking people, until you find someone who knows. This can be very time-consuming and confusing, but gets you talking to the locals and provides you with a unique and charming way of sourcing your information.
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Whereever we went in PNG, people would take responsibility for us, making sure we got the right boat, or found some accommodation. Sometimes people would stay with us for several hours until thay saw we were on the boat, or bus and they could then find someone aboard to take over the responsibility of us. People are also increadibly genorous. Another passenger on the boat offered to buy us food as he'd only seen us eating sugarcane and was worried about us. While another lady produced a pomello she'd grown in her garden and gave it to us.

The whole of PNG indulges in chewing betal nut and you'll see splodges of bright red everwhere that looks like copious amounts of blood, but is in fact the bright red spit that's produced. We tried the nut several times before we even got close to being able to understand how to chew properly (without making such an embaressing mess of ourselves - betal stains your skin unless you wash it off immediately). You have to first bite the husk to expose the nut (which looks a lot like the thing chopped off a cat during castration). You chew this in your cheek, which produces copious amounts of saliva, which can make you sick if you swallow, so you have to spit. Then you take a mustard stick, dip it into some powdered coral lime (much like a sherbert dibdab) and add this to your chewing. betal.jpgThis doesn't lessen the amount of saliva produced, but does turn it bright red. The first few times we tried it we had red saliva down to our elbows, down our chins and all up our legs where we'd been spitting. betal_me.jpgWe soon develloped a knack and were then able to chew in public a bit more respectably. People were fascinated by dimdims chewing their betal nut and really pleased, so pleased in fact that sellers would give us free betal to chew! The effect of the betal nut is that while chewing it will suddenly make you face go hot and then give you a head rush. We were told that you can get a bad nut that will make just your ear go hot!

When we arrived in PNG we spent a couple of nights in the capital - Port Morseby, then flew across the island to get to the coast and the most amazing snorkelling and diving. We spent a week living with a family of 17 people in a village called Garewa, just outside of Tufi. Celeste.jpgWe were right on the beach, with a pristine reef at our disposal. reef.jpgWe saw the most beautiful fish by the thousands as well as turtles and even a sea horse. Our accommodation was made entirely from natural resources from the forest and the food we ate was either grown, fished, or hunted by our hosts. Fabian_and_family.jpgWe ate far too many bananas, as they're one of the staples - I never knew how many ways banana could be cooked - banana soup is one I won't be going back for!

The village had lost an uncle sometime ago and in a period of mourning they all stopped eating a certain food, Taro, for sometime. While we were staying with them, this period ended and they invited the other villages to come to celebrate with them. This involved a feast of Taro (and of course more bananas) and the men and dogs went out hunting for pigs with spears. They did catch a huge pig, but sadly, just as all the guests had left for the day! They boiled it in seawater and distributed it the next day.Pig_hunt.jpg

From here we travelled further down the coast (only 2 nights on a boat/docks this time) to Alotau, a largish town in Milne Bay. I have never seen so much rain - it pissed it down all day and all night continuously. We never really dried out here, and even our waterproofs grew mould. school.jpgA really friendly town though, where people greeted us with 'morning two' whereever we went. The local school was putting on a cultural show, which involved lots of traditional dress, swapping of live pigs tied to poles, dancing and of course betal nut chewing.
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We spent a couple of nights on Samarai Island, a tiny island that you can walk round in 30 minutes. It used to be the second largest town in PNG, as it was a stopover in the China Strait. We stayed with a family here and discovered that the local word for travellers, or white people is 'dimdims'. It has to be my favouritte greeting yet, 'dimdim, look at the bird' as one young girl called to me. Our reason for coming to Samarai Island was that nearby is a Manta ray cleaning station, where the rays go to be cleaned by wrasses (one of only 2 known cleaning stations in the world). To get to the rays we had to hire a boat to travel to an even smaller island, where a really nice guy called Napoleon lived. Under his advice we watch the sea for a while, and as he said, when the current changed we saw them - just 2 as it's the wrong time of year. We grabbed our snorkels and ran into the sea and were lucky enough to get within about 2 meters of one of them - it was magical!

Back on Samarai Island there are remains of run down piers which they suggest you snorkel round. piers.jpgNot really thinking it looked that nice to swim round, but when in Rome and all... but Wow - there were literally more fish that water of all different shapes and sizes, from pipe fish to lion fish and huge shoals getting larger the deeper you went. It's known as muck diving as the water is full of tiny particles and not that clear in many places - I think that's what all those fish feed on.

From Samarai Island we returned to Alotau and spent a few more days there waiting for our weekly boat back up the coast (3 days, 2 nights this time). We spent a couple of nights in a village guesthouse in Oro bay, where the people were really lovely and cooked using traditional claypots for us to try.cathy.jpg 'Uncle' (we never did learn his true name) would come and chew betal nut with us at night. We were the only English guests they'd ever had.

PNG has a reputation for being a lawless, dangerous country (which is fuelled largely by the Australian media) and it's true that there is a lot of tribal fighting between tribes in the Highlands. But from talking to people, that's just what it is, between tribes. We found PNG one of the safest Countries we've been to, as the people are so friendly and welcoming, that they invite you to join their community. The media really has done PNG a disservice in it's overempassis on troubles. This was put in perspective when talking to Uncle about driving to visit family, he asked whether it was safe to drive across the UK. I didn't understand what he meant at first, but he went on to explain that he'd read in the papers about terrorist attacks - the curse of the media!

We seemed to get along really well with the people we met along our travels, who seemed genuinely pleased that we were travelling with them on local methods of transport, rather than driving round in aircon 4x4's as most of the tourists do, chewing Betal and staying in villages. Most of the tourists to PNG come from Australia (very few from UK) and several people confided to us that they find Australians a bit arrogant at times, but that we Brits fit into the PNG way of life very well! We even have some new family (our Wantok) who adopted us at the airport.
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I think I've written an essay here and I could go on and on about what a great time we had, the wonderful people we met, how special it is to be in a country so untouched by tourism, and what a priviledge and responsibilioty it is to be the first English people arriving in a village, but I'll end here, by telling everyone who reads this to go and experience PNG for yourself - there really is nowhere else like it!!!

Posted by DanSue 22:01 Archived in Papua New Guinea Comments (1)

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