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Archive for the ‘Kuching’ Category

Our last morning in Basaga Residences in Kuching and we were awoken by yet another heavy rainstorm.

Today we had a buffet breakfast (because it is Sunday?) and had the choice between fried eggs, potato wedges, sausages and noodles.  We were also offered two dishes of toast with butter and jam.  Between the four of us we had a little bit of everything and we even got fresh warm milk for our coffees instead of these horrible little sachets of powder milk.

Once back in the room we finished our packing and within half an hour we were done.  We settled up our bills.  The laundry was probably the most expensive we have had during our trip, but then again all our clothes have been ironed and smell really lovely!

Leaving Basaga Residences.
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Shortly after 10 our transport turned up and within 15 minutes we arrived at Kuching International Airport.

We waited around for a little while and had our hold luggage security checked and labelled.  They use these thick and extremely horribly sticky yellow labels that are almost impossible to get off. We checked in effortlessly and were appointed the seats we had booked earlier online.

We were just wondering what to do and where to go when I spotted the elderly couple from Tasmania who we met at the Permai Rainforest Resort.  It was lovely to catch up with them.  They stayed at the resort for 10 days and found it far too long.  Also the Labour Day holiday was extremely busy with 400 guests at the resort.  They were on their way to Alan’s son in Kuala Lumpur, before returning to Tasmania.  After a good natter we shook hands and hugged and wished each other a safe flight.

What time is it?
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We stocked up on a handful of sweets and chocolates before going through another security check and metal detector.  We settled at gate 8 with our new books to read.  Forty minutes later our plane had arrived and yet again there was an extremely quick turn-around.

The flight went very smoothly, we had the same meals as last time and before we knew it we were getting ready to land at Kota Kinabalu International Airport.  Out of the window we could spot some beautiful little islands and lots and lots of water.

After all our luggage had finally turned up we dashed through the main hall and noticed a stand where we had to book our taxi.  You tell the lady where you want to go, you pay and then you get given two tickets, one of which you hand to the driver.

Our driver seemed a little confused when we asked him to go to KK Times Square.  I couldn’t quite understand his confusion, surely we would spot the hotel once we had arrived at the square…

But when we did arrive at Times Square, we were just as baffled as the driver had been earlier.  Times Square is not a traditional square but more a separate “island” just outside the city centre.  It has a number of rectangular shaped office blocks and cars are not allowed between these buildings, but can only drive around them.  This meant we had to carry our luggage, but fortunately it wasn’t too far.

Once in the hotel we checked in and then there was confusion about payment.  They showed us a certain amount on the calculator (everything is worked out with a calculator here) and the man said it was the amount of the deposit.  Surely not, it looked more like the full amount.  In the end we paid the full amount plus a “deposit” of RM52.  When Tim asked why we had to pay the extra RM52, the man only explained we would get our “deposit” back when we check out.

We were handed our key card and were ready to walk past reception to where I thought we would find the lift.  But the man pointed to the door and indicated we had to get outside, turn left and up one set of stairs to the lift which would then take us to the fifth floor and our room.

Our room is a large rectangle with two double beds, a small desk, two armchairs and a coffee table and a good sized bathroom with an absolutely huge shower cubicle (it would easily fit all four of us).

After a little rest we wandered around Times Square and popped into the little shop just down the road where we bought some milk and cereal and some biscuits for tea.  The area looks very deserted with empty office blocks and only one or two eating places and a bar.  I assume that would change during the working week.  We also haven’t seen any other guests and it feels like we’re on our own.

Not far from here is a shopping centre so we asked for a map at reception and the kind lady indicated it would only be a 10 minute walk.  The weather had cooled off and the temperature was fairly comfortable by now.  Traffic was busy but not at all hectic.

The shopping centre was heaving with people and the food court on the third floor was very disappointing.  I think we have been really spoiled in some of the other places we’ve visited.  We decided to get some money out and find a taxi to the night market near the waterfront.

We finally tracked down an ATM and while we were patiently waiting outside the small cubicle (as it was pretty packed already), this lady just simply came to stand in front of Tim and then went in before us.  Tim did point out to her that we were waiting as well, but that didn’t seem to put her off or make her apologise!

We had no problems finding a taxi and the driver was happy to take us to the night market.  Except there were two night markets and he drove us to the one without hawker stalls.  When we pointed out we wanted to be dropped off at the other market (with all the food!) he abruptly charged us an extra RM5 with a big smile on his face.

This night market was amazing, with stall after stall after stall of delicious foods and fruits.  The different stalls are also grouped together.  We ended up near the sweets and desserts and bought some doughnuts and pisang goreng (or fried bananas).  Again there didn’t seem to be any sort of queueing system as people arrived later than us, but simply shouted out their orders.  Are we that invisible?  There are not that many westerners around here so we should stand out quite a bit!

We wandered further down towards the fish stalls and decided to share a fresh tuna steak (extremely tasty) and plain rice (extremely bland), whilst the girls nibbled on their corn on the cob which we had bought earlier.  The bananas and doughnuts filled us up even more.

Although we had only seen a small part of the market, we felt it was time to return to the hotel and catch up on the blog.  We’re here for quite a few more days and I’m sure we’ll go back another time.

As we reached the main road Tim spotted a taxi.  No driver, only a lady in the passenger’s seat.  We hovered around wondering what to do, when the lady opened the door and asked if we needed a taxi.  She said she would phone her husband, who was visiting the market.  Shortly afterwards she told us how much it would be and that we could hop in the back.  Just before Tim tried to squeeze in as well, she told us she would drive instead.  “Don’t worry, I have my licence!”

She was our first female taxi driver ever, and she explained she was actually not working as she was expecting her first child.  She seemed extremely confident that the baby would be a boy.  “Yes, because my father only has granddaughters.  Five granddaughters!”

After a gentle 5 minute ride she dropped us off at Times Squares, where we wished her all the best with the pregnancy and the baby.

Back in our room we gave the girls some reading time, diaries will have to wait until tomorrow.

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May Day laze

Our final full day in Kuching, and another chance to catch up with the necessities of travel – collecting our washing, buying more reading books for the girls (and Ellen’s fifth exercise book for her diary – she wrote a 351-word entry for our second Georgetown tour) and tedious hours of downsizing and uploading photos (they’ll appear soon on this blog, I hope).

Sprinklings of rain, thunderstorm downpours and smidgens of sun today. We returned to The Spring shopping centre; over the May bank holiday weekend they are offering beefburgers for a mere RM0.99 each – that’s around 20 pence – so that was lunch sorted. The girls then finished off with two of the tallest Mr Whippy-type ice creams I have ever seen; the frozen towers exceeded the heights of their heads. No, we weren’t at McDonalds, but at a popular Malaysian chain called SugarBun (and not SugarBum as Ellen first read it…). They also do fish-head soup; I gather that it’s delicious, but we’ve never had the courage to try it.

The younger generation then caught a double dose of High School Musical back at our hotel (I’m making it sound like a communicable disease, which maybe it is). Do we feel guilty about having these slow-paced days? No, it would be impossible to live at maximum experience intake velocity for 300-odd days; life should certainly be an adventure, but the washing still needs doing. And it means we can get away with a briefer blog entry every now and then…

Don’t worry – I’m sure we’ll have plenty more adventures coming up (intentional or otherwise) as we enter the last five weeks of our trip.

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Travel sick

We all had a far better night’s sleep at Annah Rais; there was still the odd caterwaul, cockerel and clatter of rain on the roof, but we were so exhausted from yesterday’s activities that they didn’t bother us unduly.

We packed our subset of luggage (not nearly as big a deal as packing everything for a flight) and walked down to breakfast. A huge dish of noodles made a welcome change from rice in grain form, but the girls weren’t so keen, making do with sweet mini-bananas and slices of watermelon. The French party seemed to have bread and jam as well, but perhaps they brought some food with them for the children.

We were told that Mr Simon would take us back to Kuching at ten o’clock, so we planned to have one final wander around the village. But as we got to our room, the new occupants – an Australian couple – arrived and we had to clear out. We then had a short wait while our driver had his breakfast, and Edward sat with us and poured us a parting shot of his rice wine. Both girls desperately wanted a final go at the blowpipe, then we bade farewell to our hosts and departed.

Girls with Mr Edward.
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Leaving Annah Rais.
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I don’t know why, but the journey back was near emetic. Same driver, same car but such a rough ride this time. We hoped for some relief once the winding jungle roads were behind us, but even waiting at a red traffic light was stomach-churning; he edged forward stop-start-stop-start, inching up to the vehicle in front. And on the main road, sudden braking, swerving lanes. Poor Hannah was the worst affected in the back seat, so we did a swap to put her in the front.

Even so, we had to pull over when it got too much for her. Our driver kept asking “You okay? Does she need a doctor?” We eventually communicated the fact that she was feeling travel sick, so he suggested “Let’s stop at a coffee shop, have something to eat and drink.” No! We got out anyway to get our feet on solid ground.

We then resumed the jolting stop-start business in the heavy traffic going into Kuching. “You okay? Feeling better?” Hannah hadn’t been sick (we wished she had been; she might have felt better then) but the one obvious thing that Simon could have done for us – drive smoothly – never occurred to him. At one stage we were approaching stationary traffic at a red light and he accelerated alarmingly, only to zoom off on a left turn at the very last moment.

We were all so relieved when he screeched round the corner into the drive of our hotel. We escaped as rapidly as possible into the cool, calm stability of Reception where the kind manager apologised for not having the air-conditioning on ready for us in our room. We didn’t mind a bit – just a comfortable bed to collapse on would be fine…

Thus concluded our Longhouse trip. What a strange juxtaposition of the totally unprofessional and the utterly memorably excellent. I thought the whole thing was going to be a disappointment until the second half of yesterday, and then you wonder why the whole thing couldn’t be that good. (A bit like my student days when I couldn’t understand why they saved the best lecturers for the revision sessions – couldn’t we have had them for the original courses as well?)

On the one hand, a guide who doesn’t know the way and another who picks pitcher plants; attempted overcharging and being sent off to your room for hours with nothing to do. On the other hand, some excellent food, some beautiful and secluded spots in the jungle, a most informative tour of the village with two knowledgeable and articulate guides (shame we couldn’t have them for our treks) and a fun interactive show and workshop (it must be good if the girls want to join in!)

What did we do for the rest of the day? Er… rest. Kirsten and I to let our blistery feet start to heal, Hannah to let her semicircular canals recover and Ellen – well, she flopped in front of Mr Bean and A Bug’s Life. We even declined to venture our for lunch (they don’t offer it on site), subsisting instead on bananas and biscuits.

There was ample time to catch up with diaries and blogs before a proper supper with something other than chicken or fish – we went for beef (satay and burger).

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Bidayuh blisters

We all ended up having a really broken night.  Hannah struggled going to sleep and was still awake after a couple of hours and Ellen had a bad dream.  On top of that the tens of cats around the village were miaowing and fighting and all too early the cockerels started crowing.  We also started taking our malaria tablets a couple of days ago and insomnia can be one of the side-effects…

Around 8.30am we made it to our breakfast table which was laid with a plate of meaty sandwiches (indescribable but fairly tasty), a plate of fried eggs, a bowl of boiled eggs and a plate of papaya.  Not much for any of us to eat.  Tim, Ellen and I settled for a couple of sandwiches and Hannah had one fried egg.  The girls had a very tasty hot chocolate, Tim tried their famous herbal tea (unimpressed) and I ended up with a very sweet coffee (although I had asked for no sugar).

We were all looking forward to our trip to the Hot Springs.  Mr Edward told us to relax and take our time and that it would be an easy walk which shouldn’t take more than one hour.  One hour?!  We thought it would be shorter than yesterday, instead it is twice as long!

He also said it would be a walk along the road and through the stream and flip-flops should be perfect footwear.  Now, we’ve been here before and walking through water with flip-flops or bare feet is not really something we enjoy.

Back at our house we decided we would wear our rubber shoes, Ellen opted for her flip-flops instead of wellies and Hannah only had her trainers to wear.  We also chose to set off earlier to try and avoid the worst of the heat.

Sebastian (aka Rambo) was going to be our guide again and prepare our lunch at the hot springs.  As we left the village I wanted to double check the length of the walk and when I asked Sebastian whether it would take a long time, he just smiled and said “yes”.  Great!!

Off we went along the road, after 15min we passed a couple of houses on our left and I kept thinking that soon we would be turning off to walk along or through the stream as Mr Edward had explained.  By now Tim and I knew that we would end up with blisters on our feet and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to our walk back later.
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At some point Sebastian stopped and pulled something off a branch at the side of the road.  It turned out to be a small pitcher plant.  After showing it to us he just chucked it away.  Why pull it off?  Why couldn’t he simply point it out to us?  A little further down the road Ellen spotted a whole bunch of pitcher plants, we stopped to admire them but certainly weren’t tempted to pick them.

We arrived at some sort of crossroads where Sebastian asked if we wanted a rest.  Apparently we were roughly half way and the hot springs were “just over there” as he pointed up towards a mountain.  We only stopped briefly to have some of our water before carrying on up and down the road.
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Shortly after our break we reached a gravel road and after another twenty minutes we were asked if we wanted another rest.  At the other side of the road we had noticed a sign to the hot springs and at last we would have our walk through meadows/jungle towards the stream.  We sat down in some sort of cafe for nearly 10 minutes until Sebastian motioned that we should be on our way again. 
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We crossed the road, walked down some bamboo steps and along a path and after a couple of minutes reached some huts.  Sebastian took off his basket rucksack and I thought he was getting ready to help the girls down the slope and across the stream, but no – we had actually arrived!  What was with the 10 minute rest when we were so close to the hot springs?
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Never mind, we took (some of) our clothes off and walked down to the stream.  The water was refreshingly cool and the three hot springs at the other side of the stream were just that… hot, hot, hot.  We decided to cool off in the last one of the springs which turned out to be the cooler one of the three.  We enjoyed each other’s company and that of the dancing Raja Brooke butterflies and bright red dragonflies.
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While we were cooling off, Sebastian gathered bamboo and leaves to wrap our lunch in and cook it over an open fire.  Surprise, surprise, we were having chicken and plain rice again.  I think we’re all beginning to have enough of plain rice!

After lunch we returned to the water for another half hour before getting ready to return to the Annah Rais longhouse.  As soon as we started walking, my feet started hurting and the one huge blister on my heel popped and began to bleed.  Poor Tim ended up taking his shoes off and walking in bare feet on the hot asphalt.  The girls were ahead of everybody, including Sebastian and just kept on marching.

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Sebastian suggested we walk to the stream near our village, but Tim & I just felt like going home and let our feet rest.  At about 2pm we arrived back at the dining room where we helped ourselves to cold drinks.  But first of all we took off those horrible rubber shoes (very comfortable when walking through water though), never to put them on again. [We subsequently learned that we had all walked four miles there and back.]
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Later on in the afternoon we heard the French guests and went out to meet them.  They were one family with four children (aged 13, 11, 7 & 5) and two more relatives.  The family live in Kuala Lumpur and were in Borneo on holiday.

Mr Edward had gone to the city and we were led around the village by a very knowledgeable guide.  I was amazed at the size of the village and soon realised we had only seen one tiny slice of it.  We walked down several bamboo streets (they need replacing once a year), across the river and up to the carpark with the library just across the road.  Several children were running around and riding bicycles.
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During our tour we stopped at a house where an elderly gentleman showed us freshly-picked peppercorns, lemongrass and cocoa beans. As we moved on, he gave a bunch of starfruit to the girls to keep; he didn’t want any payment for it.
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Later on we caught sight of the one Englishman who lives in the village; he used to have a business in Sarawak but sold up, retired here and married a local woman. He has been here for over ten years now and is accepted as a member of the community although he does not speak the local language.

On our way back to our dining room, we stopped at the Head House.  Here we could see a cage full of skulls, with a special skull (that of an enemy chieftain) kept separate above it.  The girls were keen to climb up the pole to have a look at this particular skull. 

Our next stop was the traditional show house.  It had the original walls and floors, a kitchen area in one corner and storage area upstairs just above the kitchen.  The smoke from the cooking would dry the rice grains above and would also keep any bugs out.  The high number of cats in the village keeps the rats out.
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Our guide also pointed out the tallest and oldest tree in the village.  This tree had been planted well over 200 years ago as a symbol of a peace treaty.  People could not read or write and therefore were unable to sign the treaty.  Their solution was to plant this tree instead, and both parties promised not to cut it down ever or that would be the end of the treaty.

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Our supper time came up soon and we were served plain rice, green beans, marrow with small chicken pieces, vegetable omelette and a very mild chicken curry.  Dessert was fresh pineapple and small, sweet bananas.  As yesterday, the food was absolutely delicious and we even managed to finish the odd serving plate.

Once our food had settled the French mother and I were asked to get dressed in traditional costume.  I was pleasantly surprised when Hannah got up as well as she wanted to dress up too.  Then the three musicians warmed up their bamboo gongs and an 84-year-old local lady performed a welcome dance.  Next it was the dressed-up girls’ turn, Hannah opted to sit out though and enjoy the music from the bench with Ellen and Tim.  At the end of the dance my arms were ready to drop off!  For the last dance, however, everybody was asked to join in and Hannah & Ellen didn’t hesitate one second to participate with Tim and me.
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[Tim now]
The ‘bandleader’, Mr Arthur, led a workshop after the show to give us an introduction to the bamboo instrument that he and his colleagues had been playing. It’s called a Pratonk, and it is unique to Annah Rais; an endemic instrument. It is made from a segment of a special type of bamboo (nearly a foot in diameter) which grows around here. The ‘strings’ are formed from slivers of bamboo which are cut away from the outer layer while remaining attached at both ends. Wooden wedges divide each string into two pitched lengths, with mini-wedges at each end for fine tuning.

Once a string breaks, it is irreperable; nowadays they build in a few spares to cover this eventuality (the entire instrument takes three weeks to carve). The scale is pentatonic: G, Bb, C, D, F and G. There  is also a bass drone, a much wider bamboo strip. The strings are struck with one or two little rubber-covered mallets; the end of the instrument rests on your left leg as you sit cross-legged on the ground.

The girls and I had a go at playing one of the simpler pieces featured in the show: an ostinato D-C-D-F D-C-D-low G.
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Mr Arthur and friends will be performing on their Pratonks at this year’s Rainforest World Music Festival in July at the Cultural Village we visited, along with musicians from another 30 countries; they are one of only two groups from Malaysia itself.

Whilst Tim was enjoying the music workshop and asking loads of questions, the girls and I had another practice with the blowpipes.  This time Hannah joined in as well.  Unfortunately, the darts are made out of bamboo so as soon as it hits the dartboard (or anything else) it gets squashed and blunt and therefore it won’t stick in the board on the next attempt.  The girls had a great time and pretty much every time hit the board, their last shots were the best.  [On Friday morning we found their darts still stuck on the board.]
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It had gone 10pm by the time the girls were ready for bed.  Tim & I did some of our packing and turned in shortly after the girls.  Lets hope we’re all tired enough to get some sleep tonight.

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Annah Rais

The Westenra wake-up call worked as planned and we were sitting at our breakfast table the moment they started serving (7.30am). We ordered one fried egg and toast, two plain toasts and fried noodles for me. Five or ten minutes later two toasts and two fried egg plates appeared. No, that’s not what we ordered. (Why didn’t you write it down, then this wouldn’t happen?) The waitress seemed surprised, and did not immediately whisk my erroneous egg away.

In the meantime Mr Simon, our driver, had arrived and reassured us that there was no hurry. However, my mountain of noodles finally appeared at five to eight and we were supposed to set off at eight, so I could do little more than nibble a few strands before we got up and left.

Mr Simon drove us south to the longhouse village, stopping off at Kota Padawan to let us buy some ‘Kampung Adidas’ cheapo rubber shoes for our jungle trekking; they cost about £1 per pedal extremity. Our driver chatted, hummed, sang and belched his way there, much to the stifled amusement of the girls.

At the entrance to the village I was directed to a booth where I had to pay an admission charge. The first I’d heard of this, but I coughed up the RM20 for two adults and one child (Ellen was free). We just made the 9.30am start time, but there again we were the only group today.

We were greeted by the rotund Mr Edward and shown to our room a few doors down. Time to shatter a few of those preconceptions about a Borneo Longhouse stay. First of all, this isn’t one long house divided into terraced units like we’ve seen in the cultural villages. There is one long bamboo ‘street’ on stilts and off this are arranged a variety of residences. Ours is fully equipped with TV, stereo, fridge, kitchen, etc. About the only amenity lacking is air conditioning but there is a fan in every room instead. Apparently this belongs to Edward’s cousin (one of them) and he will be sleeping elsewhere for the duration.

View from our window.
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We were told we’d be picked up to be driven most of the way to the waterfall (I had requested transport as a two-hour uphill trek would be too much for the girls) but when I said that I’d quite like to walk the whole way (as recommended on the website) this seemed to cause a problem; they didn’t have a guide available. Nevertheless Edward disappeared for a while and we were left to ‘settle in’.

About half an hour later he reappeared and invited us round to his place to settle up. Good news; he’d found a guide for me. We (adults) were treated to a nip of his home-brewed rice wine while he tried to charge me an extra RM120 for our stay. I had jotted down figures from the confirmation email and in the absence of any other evidence (just a vague text message from his Singapore associate who deals with all the internet bookings) he went with my figures. [And yes, there are several mobile phone masts on the hill above the village. There goes the next preconception.] Then we were ushered out for our waterfall trek and lunch.

(Kirsten & the girls) Our transport was waiting to take us part of the way to the waterfalls.  I was expecting a car with air conditioning or at least a 4WD with open windows.  Instead we were herded and loaded onto the back of an open truck!  Sebastian, our quiet and gentle guide joined us.
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After a 15 minute exhilarating ride we were dropped off at the side of the road in what seems to be the middle of nowhere.  I couldn’t see a path and for one second thought we would have to “hack” our way through the jungle.

But then Sebastian led us along a narrow path and within minutes we were crossing even narrower bamboo bridges.

The girls took it all in their stride and their happy chatter and laughter indicated that they were loving the experience.  It was great to have Sebastian to ourselves which meant that we could walk at the girls’ pace.
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The weather was pretty hot and humid and it didn’t take long before my shirt stuck to my back and the last of my tattoo was washed off by sweat.

We walked through a meadow before following the stream into the jungle.  Sebastian was very considerable towards the girls and would gently guide them across the stream on numerous occasions.

On the way Sebastian picked up some tapioca leaves, wild ginger and lemongrass for our lunch and after about half an hour we spotted the  3-tier waterfall.  This was our destination and a very welcome sight.

Meanwhile, I [Tim] had set out on my trek. My guide, Jimmy, immediately admitted “This is the first time I’ve done this” and then later said “The last time I came here was ten years ago with my grandfather.” As long as he knew the way I wasn’t too concerned, although I might not get the full detailed commentary as we went along.

We only got lost two or three times. We walked uphill for about an hour; a tough, hot climb. I was surprised that Jimmy seemed to get far more out of breath than I did, and his pauses were as much for his benefit as for mine. No little apercus about the jungle vegetation or pointing out cunningly concealed wildlife. He did chop me a length of sugar cane to chew on to help me along, though, and later a bamboo walking pole.
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We emerged onto a metalled road, presumably the one that Kirsten and the girls had been driven along. We turned left and followed the road for perhaps half a mile until Jimmy got out his phone and asked for directions; I couldn’t understand what he said, but that uncontrollable urge to point even though the other person can’t see you gave it away. Was it further on the way we were walking or else back in the opposite direction?

Fortunately we were heading the right way, and a little further on we branched off for the final 20-minute segment of the walk – the bit the others had done ahead of us. Along by a stream, presumably something to do with our waterfall destination.

After 15 minutes the path petered out and Jimmy listened carefully before declaring that we needed to go off at a right angle to our right. No trail in sight, so we backtracked and wondered about following another branch of the stream. No footprints in the sand, so back still further. My water was running out and I hoped we’d find our way to meet up with the others. At last we saw a side turning marked with a bamboo cross and this led in the correct direction. We were there by 12.20, just under two hours after setting off.

And what a lovely spot; a multiply-cascading waterfall with shallow pools for bathing and surrounded by lush greenery. A couple of bamboo shelters on the usual stilts provided a kitchen and a dining area. I had time for a quick dip while the other guide prepared our lunch of rice cooked in bamboo, chicken with lemongrass and wild ginger and a spicy fish (sardine?) dish. The rice is locally grown but a bit overcooked and glutinous; the chicken and fish were delicious with the local seasoning.
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After lunch we had a good two hours to enjoy the waterfall; the rubber shoes make walking on gravel and rocks so much more comfortable (they have rubber studs modelled on soccer boots), and we wish we’d had them for the Rafflesia hike.
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A little after 2.40 we gathered our things ready for the return journey. Good thing we set off when we did, for not long afterwards the sky darkened and those big ploppy raindrops did their rainforest thing. Sebastian (the other guide) chopped off some huge banana-type leaves – mine was over six feet long – to use as umbrellas. We returned to the road, finding the many little bamboo walkways and bridges increasingly useful in the muddy conditions.
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Jimmy wheezed up the hill to get a mobile signal to call our flat-bed truck to take us back to the village. A quarter of an hour later the rain was easing and we joggled about in the back of the truck round bends and over speed bumps. There’s another experience (like holding lit sticks of dynamite) that’s probably illegal back home.

Once we were back, Edward commanded us to sit and we helped ourselves to soft drinks from a refrigerated cabinet. He explained that he had had to retire from his previous job following a road traffic accident and so he had set up this venture instead; and indeed he leaves the hard work to his fellow villagers who lead the treks or cook the food or provide the accommodation. He probably brings in several hundred pounds a day from his visitors; this in a country where a typical hourly wage starts at around £1. And charging over £20 for a short return trip in a truck is a bit steep. That would get you a taxi for an entire morning, probably. Apparently there is a large French group arriving straight off the plane tomorrow, then another party the day we leave; for now we have the place to ourselves.

After our drinks I got up and Kirsten noticed that I had a big fat leech sucking away at my left ankle. I surprised myself with my composure and calmly requested a cigarette lighter to get it off (both the guides are heavy smokers) but Sebastian just pulled it off instead – I thought that this could leave the mouth parts in place. I hadn’t felt a thing; the wound bled for a little while but healed reasonably quickly.

We were sent back to our room to rest (“You will be tired after your long hike”) with instructions to return for supper at seven o’clock. So we flicked through a copy of The Week that had been left in our house, the girls did some diary and played with some cuddlies that they found.

Our supper was quite a feast, prepared by Edward’s wife. Mounds of sticky rice with four large dishes of spinach, marrow and chicken, rice wine chicken and a large trout (I think). We did what we could – it was tasty and well cooked but simply too much for us.

We retired to our rooms, locked the door (the cousin has been wandering in and out during the afternoon but there comes a time when we need our privacy) and now we hope we’ll sleep well, ready for roll call at 8.30 tomorrow morning.

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At quarter to three in the morning the rain started. The incessant percussive impact on the flat roof of our suite room (which used to be a primary school canteen) punctuated by a couple of near lightning strikes disturbed the adults’ sleep but somehow the girls hardly noticed.

We wore our raincoats to breakfast, deciding that this looked like a day for shopping centres and TV. The fare on offer was disappointing, especially if you are not a fan of eggs (like Ellen and myself). Rather than spam, spam, spam it was scrambled eggs, fried eggs, hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs or coddled eggs with a supporting cast of toast and either turkey ham or chicken sausages. We asked to swap a few eggs for extra slices of toast; tomorrow some of us might go for the one alternative – mixed noodles. Probably the most disappointing breakfast we’ve had in Malaysia.

As the morning progressed the rain began to ease off after a good six or seven hours. We tore ourselves away from Mr Bean and took a taxi to The Spring shopping centre, a little way down our street (but nearer than I expected). It’s one of the bigger and better organised malls in Kuching; it even has a map to help you find your way around (quite a novelty).

First stop a computer shop to buy a second portable hard disk drive to back up all our photos so far (about 10,000 of them) and 14 hours of high-definition video. I was going to buy extra memory cards but this is a far cheaper way, allowing us to reuse our existing cards. Just got to make sure that the two disk drives never travel on the same flight…

The girls bought some hair accessories (I restrained the urge myself) and then we bought magazines and a Lonely Planet for Bali in an MPH bookshop. That Frommers guide was so appalling that the flawed LP is wonderful in comparison. The only Rough Guide in the shop was for Bruges…

More quirky English. The hair accessory shop repeatedly warned us ‘Handle with nice, once broken consider sold.’ One till at the burger outlet where the girls’ lunch came from glowed ‘HappY DaY Next Counter Please.’ Then there’s the weird language in the home-grown children’s programme ‘Upin and Ipin’ about those ‘adorable twins’ where every sentence is peppered with “huh?” – or often consists solely of “huh?”. The title sequence contains the line “Have you forgotten, is it?” If that’s how they teach English here, then that explains some of the oddities we read or hear.

Anyway, Kirsten and I had delicious beef noodles and meatball soup in the smart shopping centre food court, along with the worst fresh lemon and lime juices we have ever had (bitter, sour and slightly salty); fortunately the girls’ orange juices took the foul taste away. A few clothes shops, then back in another taxi – the driver wanted to charge us more for the return journey as it involves turning round…

The girls flopped in front of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning while I backed up all our files onto the new hard drive (which took four hours) and Kirsten packed prior to tomorrow’s excursion to the Longhouse. In the meantime we devoured a block of Cote d’Or Belgian chocolate that we had found in a supermarket earlier; they also stocked (and we also bought) Speculoos biscuits and those Cafe Noir ones with the icing on top.

Supper at our hotel – the portions seemed bigger tonight and we didn’t have room to help the girls out with their fish. They tried some of my Sarawak fried rice dish (with prawns and vegetables) and found it so tasty that they asked to order it next time.

Final packing this evening. We are being picked up at 8am or earlier, so Hayley’s on the case to wake us up in time. One rucksack with jungle trekking/swimming stuff, another with changes of clothes, diaries, etc. and bags with boots and nibbles. We’ll be back online on April 30th, all being well.

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Bye-bye Permai

A gentle start to our last morning in the tree house.  We headed down to the breakfast room and were slightly disappointed again that we were offered a buffet breakfast, which meant no banana pancakes or waffles with fruit.

We settled for toast with honey, followed by little plain pancakes, watermelon and melon, washed down with weak and cold coffee.

We said goodbye to the Australian couple we met on our first day here and returned to our tree house to finish our packing.  The girls both wrote a marathon entry about yesterday in their diary and an hour later we had packed all our stuff.

By 11.15am we returned to the cafe for a light snack of fish fingers and chips before returning to Kuching.  Last night we booked our transport for 12 o’clock and after settling our last bill we hopped into the mini van.

We all had a great time here, Hannah enjoyed her birthday and the surroundings were beautiful and peaceful.  I can truly recommend Permai Rainforest Resort for a weekend break or short stay.

The return journey was slightly faster and a little before 1pm we arrived at the Basaga House.  Fortunately for us our driver knew the address, but we were still not quite sure whether this was the right place.  Tim popped into reception where the lady confirmed that this was it.

First impressions were great.  The building and interior looked really beautiful, but like Hotel 360, is situated in an uninteresting part of the town.  Not much to see around here, and only a handful of eating places.

The room itself is the only suite out of the 34 rooms.  It is one big room with a white floor, white ceiling and walls and dark brown posts.  It has one supersize king bed and two single beds, a large L shaped sofa, big screen television, a very comfortable leather armchair and footrest and a small bathroom.  we have a view of the salt water swimming pool and are not too far from the bar and restaurant.  Let’s hope we won’t have a repeat of Singapore, but so far so good, though.
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Wedding photo shoot by the pool.
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The manageress seemed really helpful and kind and has come up to us a couple of times already to have a chat.  All in all we’re pretty pleased.

We have also been reassured that we can leave some of our luggage (either in our suite or in the office) when we are staying in a longhouse on Wednesday & Thursday, which would be a big help.

Before we had supper at the hotel, we walked around the area but weren’t too impressed with the eating places on offer.  At the hotel we ordered beef satay, spaghetti bolognaise and chicken chop with chips for all of us to share.  The girls and Tim had enough room left for ice creams to finish off their meal.

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Back in the room the girls watched Mr Bean, followed by quiet reading and bed time. Not sure yet what our plans are for tomorrow, maybe we’ll pop into the centre again or find a park.

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