A Travellerspoint blog

Myanmar

The Travel Blog Black Hole

Because there is free airport Internet, and also because sending this from Taipei sounds so much sexier than from home, I thought I would just update this as much to say I am still alive and on my way home.

For those of you were actually checking into my blog and were perhaps thinking that I had been in some terrible accident 3 weeks ago, had fallen in love with a jungle temptress in Borneo, or more likely, just got kind of lazy, the real reason there have been no updates is that I have been in Myanmar. And let me tell you something about Internet and Myanmar. It's about as easy to find an Internet connection in Myanmar as it is to find a telegraph machine in the States. And then once you find one, it's about as easy to operate as said telegraph machine.

Due to the fact there is a line building behind me here, I'll leave it that Myanmar is now my favorite country in the world (I have a very short memory, so no offense to Malaysia and many of the other places I've visited).

For those of you interested in the long stories, join me for a beer back home. For those, more visual people, I'll try to update this site with as many pictures as I can very soon.

Right then, off to have a few chinese beers to prepare me for my 14 hour flight to LAX.

-Buckley

Posted by john7buck 21:59 Archived in Taiwan Comments (2)

Mount Kinabalu - The 4,000 Meter Stairmaster

all seasons in one day -1 °C

Pictures have been added

Okay, I know that I still owe this blog the Part II to the jungle trekking story. But since that is going to be a lot of yaddee, yaddee yadda about how amazing the local people are and all of that (written mostly for my benefit), I figured I would first let you read about me climbing a big damn mountain.

Sitting at home, thumbing through my South East Asia travel books, Mount Kinabalu was actually what first piqued my interest in heading to Borneo. Afterall, it is the highest mountain in SE Asia, yet seemed a manageable feat for my not-quite mountaineer, yet no city slouch, legs and ability to handle. And so after working my way from Kuala Lumpur (mainland Malaysia) over to Sarawak state on Borneo, I now find myself in Sabah state in a city called Kota Kinabalu (KK), a few hours from the park headquarters of Mount Kinabalu.

As I was waiting for a minivan to depart KK at 7 a.m. in the morning, I sat restlessly as the van would only depart when all of the seats were filled. As it turned out, there was another obvious tourist sitting on the curb as well, a Swede named Rikard. After chattting a bit, we established that this Mount Kinabalu transit system was not exactly a well-oiled machine. And then the final passenger arrived, an American girl from Kansas. All traveling alone, and previously hoping to find some people to share the guide fees with, we unknowingly became a small trio for the ascent up Mount Kinabalu.

I've been accused of rambling on in my writing, so I think I'll just cut to the chase. We arrived at Park Headquarters sometime around 9 a.m. and after some fumbling around trying to store my heroic amount of excess baggage, we were on the trail by around 10:30 a.m. The end point for the day would be Laban Rata Guesthouse some 5 km up the mountain (if you're reading this and you've climbed the mountain, I admit it, I'm throwing out random distances as if they were fact, when I really didn't pay much attention.)

The first day was a bit of a slog, though not extraordinary other than the fact that the trail is composed almost entirely of stairs that are about 2-4 feet high. I'm sure there is a good reason for this, but the only one that came to my mind as I was climbing was that the people who built it were just cruel bastards.

Reaching Laban Rata was an impressive sight. For one, the landscape on the way up had been a relatively unrelenting jungle landscape that didn't change too much. Two, the place is just really cool in a how in the hell did they get all of this stuff up here way. I had seen pictures of this place before, and it was recently mentioned in Outside Magazine as one of the hardest to reach bars in the world. True they do serve beer, but I wouldn't really consider it a bar, in the sense that everybody up there has to get up at 2 am to climbing an incredibly steep rock mountain the next day. None-the-less, I passed on the 18 Ringgit room temperature beers, thinking that was outrageous. But looking back, a beer for under $5 dollars is a bargain considering somebody actually had to carry it all up there, and damn it, I probably should have rewarded them for the effort by drinking one. Ah well, next time.

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Laban Rata Resthouse

The funny thing about climbing this big damn mountain is that they apparently want you up at the top for sunrise. Being that the girl from Kansas was having a little difficulty with the altitude, our "guide" got us moving at 2:30 a.m. Being that it was raining and that getting up the mountain involves climbing up ropes over slick mountain faces, Rikard decided to give the ascent a pass and go back to sleep.

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So after going at the pace of Amanda and our guide early on, we then got passed for the lead by a lone climber. I've never really thought of myself as all that competitive, but I'd had it with the Kansas pace and headed up on the mountain on my own, following a single headlamp that had become my nemesis. And then the light went away. Had the guy fallen off the mountain? Was he waiting behind a rock to jump me? What is going on!

Well, low and behold, when I arrived at the top there was this guy sitting in the dark; headlamp dead. He was a French guy and our reward for making it to the top a good hour before anyone else was to sit there and freeze, and I mean absolutely freeze, from 4:30 a.m. until sunrise at 6 a.m. In my own sick way, I was trying to convince myself of how nice it was to be cold in SE Asia, but in truth, it was just pretty miserable.

And then the sun came up and it was absolutely mesmorizingly beautiful. You'd never know by my pictures as I kept getting the keep the hand steady sign, which was pretty much impossible for me at that point. How funny, I was thinking, it would have been to come from Borneo with frostbite on my hands.

On the way down, I was telling my tale of freezing in the dark to a fellow descending hiker. We hadn't been talking long so I hadn't picked up on his accent before he asked, were the two of you hugging to stay warm? To which I replied dryly, well, French-American relations aren't quite that warm are they? And where was that guy from? France of course. D'oh!

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Posted by john7buck 18:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (6)

Yes, I am a Wild Boar Hunter

Words, I bet you never expected to hear from my mouth.

semi-overcast 31 °C

Author's Note: To save time and brain power (although, come to think of it, neither of them seem to be a real premium at the moment) I have decided to just transcribe from my journal for this entry. As a result, it's a bit long, self indulgent and romanticized. There's no drinking or getting into any sort of trouble, so for the readers looking for that sort of thing, this may not be the entry for you.

For some reason, I cannot get the photo insert feature to work here, but if you click on john7buck under author to the right, I think you can get directed to my photo gallery, of which I have downloaded several images.

Part One
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Wow, where to begin? I truly feel like I've just experienced something truly special, like I was given a pass to witness a life that was not my own (I'm pretty sure I just lost half of my readers). Sure, lots of travelers catch glimpses of foreign cultures and experiences; that's kind of the point I think.

But for nearly the first time in all of my travels, barring the year I lived in Micronesia, I feel as though my experience here in Bario was more than just a "tour". It will take me a bit here to explain what I mean, but to set it up, even when I did a family homestay on Isla de Amantani (ha, lucky I'm using the same journal as my SA trip) on Lake Titicaca in Peru, it was all an elaborate set up to show Mr. and Mrs. Gringo this quaint "native life". Essentially, a boat load of tourists would stop off and spend the night with a local family. Around every corner they would try to sell you something and the people seemed bored and relatively put out by having to put on this song and dance for the tourists, day-in day-out. Now don't get me wrong, that was an amazing experience and one I cherish to this day. But to my point, I was a definite tourist among many others and I was clearly on a "tour". Not a bad thing.

For your sake, just edited out some more useless jibberish.

Without yammering on endlessly, oh wait, I just did; let me get to my experience here in Bario; or more expansively, the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, Borneo.

When I first arrived at the tiny Bario Airstrip, I was greeted by Nancy of the Nancy Harriss Homestay; as well as a woman from Reddish's Barview Lodge. Joanne in Miri had recommended Nancy, but as I was leaving the hostel, another guy in the stairway told me to ignore her and stay at Reddish's place instead. Lonley Planet was apparently in agreement, as Barview Lodge was the only place they spent any time reviewing. Regardless, when I arrived, Nancy seemed to be the more friendly of the two, so I agreed to go with her on blind judgement. It was the best decision I have made in a while.

Nancy then introduced me to her husband Harriss, who then drove me to their home. After settling in, Harriss put me on the back of their motorbike and toured me around the small town of Bario and the surroundings. As we were cruising around, we passed an Italian couple who were on my plane. They were just wandering around on their own and Harriss informed me that Reddish is rarely in Bario and his wife does not speak very good English. He then told me that for the next three days, Bario was hosting a "Spiritual Revival" and that none if the local guides would be available until it was finished. So those that were in town would either have to wait for the church marathon to end, or just fend for themselves on the limited trails near town that do not require a guide. Lucky for me, Nancy informed me that Harriss was too honest to put up with all of the church politics (and I later learned there were many), so he would serve as my guide during the week. Truth-be-told, after spending the week with him, I think he holds a blended belief of Christianity with the traditional beliefs of nature worship. Whatever the case, and whatever the God, someone was smiling on me in the events that lead to getting Harriss as my personal guide for the week. And I use the term guide rather loosely, as really what transpired was that I payed him a small fee to hang out with him and his buddies for the week. This was a very good thing in my eyes.

So on my first full day in Bario, because my arrival was unexpected and because Harriss had already promised his friend Robert that he'd go wild boar hunting, Harriss asked if I would like to join them; no charge. And here I should probably explain the pricing breakdown. I would pay 55 Ringgit for my food/accomodation on days that did not require a guide and RM 85 for those that did. On nights where I was sleeping in the jungle, it was still just RM 85, even though all of my stuff was still in my room in the house. Thus, for the entire eight days, I paid RM 660, roughly US$170 for food, accomodation and guide services. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

As far as I'm concerned, when I'm traveling, I live by one simple rule: if you have the chance to do something that you most probably will never have the chance to do again in your life, you f#@#ing do it! And so when Harriss asked if I wanted to go wild boar hunting; I thought hmmm. . .wild boar hunting in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo; absolutely yes, please take me!

But I'll let you in on a little secret. Wild boar hunting in the jungles of Borneo kind of sucks. Well, let me re-phrase that; wild boar hunting in the jungles of Borneo is incredibly arduous. But then, I would later come to realize that doing anything in the jungles of Borneo is incredibly arduous.

The day started out at a nice enough pace with picturesque strolling surrounded by rice paddy fields, but soon the jungle began tightening up and we were soon walking in a butter-soft mud drainage. I should add that because this was Harriss' day off, I had decided to be a ghostly observer as he and Robert did their thing and chatted in a Kelabit dialect that was just pleasing to listen to listen to. But soon the romance of the rolling fields and foreign conversations wore off and we were deep in the jungle fighting off innumerable obstacles and small creatures. It was at this point that I was introduced to my first leech. When I found one clinging to my boot, I thought "how tribal, I'm being leeched" and took several pictures not realizing that in the week ahead these bastards would show up for three digit photo appearances should I continue to find them amusing.

As we made our way through the jungle, I thought, "how nice, Harriss and Robert aren't taking it easy on me." In truth, they probably were a bit, but they thankfully did not have a nice "tour" in mind either. Though there are quite a few local trails (I use this term loosely too, I'd say they are more aptly, just the way) apparently wild boar are not big on getting their hike on. So with Harriss and Robert chopping away with machetes, we worked our way deeper into the jungle, all the while waiting for a group of dogs to catch the scent of the wild boar. Fortunately, Harriss and Robert are big fans of the nicotine and would take numerous smoke breaks where I could wipe some sweat away and gather my senses.

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When the dogs finally caught the scent of the wild boar, all hell broke loose and it was a seeming mad dash though the jungle. This was clearly no tour as I stumbled my way after Harriss and Robert with vines bearing spikes custom-made to grab and tear at Salomon base layers with fancy ski area logos embroidered on them.

The dogs wailed in the distance and Harriss assured me they were barking in a new way that meant they had it cornered. This went on for hours though air thick and heavy and dripping with wet jungle heat.

Scoffing at the dogs' abilities, we finally settled in for lunch. It was at this point that I noticed Robert had taken off his shoes and he was bleeding profusely. Naive Westerner that I am, I offered up Band-Aids, Neosporin and hydrogen peroxide, thinking that his all rubber low-tops had torn the crap out of his feet. Harriss then, non-chalantly told me not to worry, it's just leeches. Well then, that doesn't sound much better but if it's not going to bother Robert, it wouldn't bother me. Later in the week as jungle travails would nag at me, I'd tell myself, "this wouldn't bother Robert, deal with it yankee!" There were many of these moments.

And it was as we were wrapping up lunch that I noticed some large blood stains emerging in the legs of my pants. Um Harriss, is this from leeches? Yes John, if you do not find and pull the leeches off before they have had their fill, they let go on their own leaving a non-colagulent on the wound. This caused me some distress at first and it ruined a pair of pants and a couple pairs of socks, but after a while you actually come to terms with them as a fairly harmeless jungle nuisance; compared to say our wood tick that will keep sucking until it explodes.

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After lunch, there was another frantic pursuit of wild dog noises and more clumbsy jungle running on my part. In the end, there would be no wild boar to be had, but hey, this was hunting. You win some, you loose some. The minor victory I had to take away was that the lack of wild boar did not seem to be openly attributed to my presence, but more to the cursed lousy dogs!

On the way home, as the jungle once again opened up into rolling paddock with water buffalo grazing nearby, we laid down on the grass for a well deserved rest. Harriss and Robert chatted away in their Kelabit dialect as Harriss whittled a toy top for his son out of a tree he had chopped down with his machete. And the tired white kid in the base layer fleece and the bloody pants took a nap, all along enjoying a glimpse into a world that was not his own.

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Posted by john7buck 18:55 Archived in Malaysia Tagged travelling_with_pets Comments (3)

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