Stuck in Sarawak a While

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Monday, October 5, 2009

Just getting to the airport at 4:45am in Colombo is an experience.  The four lane roads were full of cars with their brights on, cars with no lights on, pushcarts, pedestrians walking in the road, pedestrians crossing the road, kamikaze tuk-tuks drivers, stray dogs, cars that couldn't seem to find a lane and buses taking all the lanes.  And that was just ten minutes into an hour drive.  Every so often a soldier would wave his machine gun to signal it was time to pull over for yet another document check.  When they saw I was traveling on an American passport, they quickly waved us on.

Getting into the airport is an experience as well.  Every car has to pass through a well armed and fortified military checkpoint and the driver's details are recorded by hand in a hardbound journal.  I got the flashlight treatment in the eyes while my passport was checked yet again.  Yet another checkpoint stood between me and getting inside the terminal and once inside I had to pass through more machine gun toting soldiers on my way to the counter.  Then once inside the departure hall behind security I noticed the place was crawling with more machine guns inside and out. 

I have found the perfect airport job that requires absolutely no people skills or personality.  It seems that Indians and Sri Lankans like to arrive in the departure area and rack out for a nap.  They just can't seem to cross the finish line and make it all the way to the proper gate.  So some dude with a clipboard of all the flights walks around kicking the chairs they are sleeping in.  When the Sri Lankans or Indians come to, this man yells, "Where are you going?  You are late.  Hurry Up.  Go, Go, Go, Go, Go."  He then shoos them off with a flick of the wrist much like someone swatting away some kind of stinging insect with great disdain.  I guess Sri Lankans think posted departure times are merely a suggestion and these chair kickers are kept very busy.

Flying around this part of the world is an experience as well.  Having flown Air Asia before I was well prepared for a cramped and noisy ride.  Any sense of personal space is a theoretical concept for these people and they will lean on top of you to talk across the aisle or just come right onto into your space and linger a while.  I paid for seat 24C and expect to have quiet enjoyment of said space for the duration of my flight but that is not possible.   The three and half hour flight from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur was like hurtling through the air on a Guatemalan chicken bus.

I loved this one Malaysian girl who got up to use the restroom and couldn't find her chair after she finished.  She would run high speed up the aisle, stop, and squint through thick glasses that magnified her eyes 15 times.  She would then bob her head up and down rapidly with her two hands all folded up underneath her giant pursed up overbite.  She would then run the other way and repeat the process over and over.  This went on for about 3 minutes before one of the flight attendants finally showed some mercy and rescued this girl from herself.  Her t-shirt had Beauty Queen bedazzled across the front in shiny rhinestones and two screenprinted mice looking skyward sprawled below these words.  Ironic thing is she looked like a mouse scurrying around.

I am glad I had come mentally fortified for this journey.  The seats are more than adequate for Vietnamese travelers 5'1" or smaller but for full size Americans they are a joke.  The boarding music played the entire time over the PA since somehow the flight attendants forgot to turn it off and some of the passengers in the back were told 4 times to stop chanting and singing at the top of their lungs.  For $22 bucks no complaints here and it really didn't bother me.  Like I said, I was prepared for it unlike three British travelers who were beside themselves from the chaos.  Going with the flow is the only way to survive around here.  It's 3.5 hours out of my life.  Big deal and it's something I won't see at home on British Airways or Delta...hopefully

I met my travel buddy in Kuala Lumpur and had a three hour wait before the 2 hour flight on to Kuching which is in southern Borneo.  The same advertising loop played over and over and over on the tvs in the gates.  Let's see...get your car's A/C serviced only at a licensed shop so we don't deplete the ozone.  Cucumber slices cure pink eye and coconuts are good for overall kidney health.  And after seeing an ad for 300 times I no longer need to travel there.  I have surfed, eaten at a nice restaurant and traveled through the outback in a jeep complete with surfergirl bobblehead doll swaying on the dashboard.  All while wearing an Australian cowboy hat.  Yep...after three hours of that I can tick the Outback off my list of places I have been. 

So here we are in Kuching, Malaysia on Borneo for a while because our travel plans into Indonesia have been put to rest by all the natural disasters.  We can't get a refund on the plane fares because the airports are reopened but I'll just eat $100 worth of tickets in order to miss cities with thousands dead under piles of rubble.  I am just thankful we missed all the destruction by a week.  We are trying to at least see one of the national parks here but are scrambling to find a way to one without paying over $100 a person through a tour operator.  That is a ridiculous amount of money considering a meal costs less than dollar, taxis across town are maybe $2, and intercity buses are maybe $3. 

We have met three women from Singapore who are running into the same concerns about rip off tourist pricing, and we are going to try to take a bus to a remote village and hire a boat to take us to the park.  Who knows if it will work but we are going to set off at 7am in the heat and humidity and give it a try.  It's all part of the big adventure and after we find the park, we are going to try to find something to do other than sit around Borneo two weeks and eat (delicious food though!!).

And I will upload some pics when I get a chance of Kuching.  It's a city of 600,000 in the southern part of Borneo in a part of Malaysia called Sarawak.  Though it is in Malaysia we had to go through immigration control to enter this part of the country.  No idea why.  It's called the Cat City since the word Kuching is close to Kucing...which your guessed it...means cat in Malay.  Now I haven't seen the first cat wandering around this place yet but have probably eaten some without knowing it.  Who knows. 
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