A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

The Quiet Capital

mosques, kites & a rainbow

sunny

As we set off at dawn we were still hopeful of making it to Brunei today, it would just require all the connections to run smoothly. The David's had informed us there was no bus until much later and we would have to get a mini cab but ideally share it with a few others to keep costs down. As we waited on the highway there didn't seem to be any around. When one did show up we were the only ones wanting to go so the price was a little too high, we made the decision to see if any other people showed up. Thankfully about half an hour later there were now five of us and the price was justifiable.

It was much more satisfying to be in the mini cab than on a bus because you knew it was taking a direct route and it was only going to stop a maximum of four stops. We speeded along and it took about an hour and a half to get to the ferry port. We hurried in to buy our ticket Labuan which is a small, duty free island of the coast of Malaysia, from here we would have to get another boat to Brunei. Drunken David thought we should go here because (and he directed this comment at Adam) “there are lots of bars and women!” It would seem that luck was not on our side and we had just missed a boat and the next one was not for about four more hours and there was no way that we would then make a connecting boat to Brunei. We resigned ourselves to a night on Labuan and then sat down to think about how we were going to fill the next few hours.

Thankfully the time went quite quickly and we managed to get some internet research done into where we could stay in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) the capital of Brunei. As it is a fairly expensive country we wanted to find the cheapest place possible. A little more clued up we headed back to the ferry and were soon enroute to Labuan. Once there we searched for a hostel we had read about but it seemed to have disappeared, if it had ever existed, so we ended up at a hotel which despite being in a fairly bleak looking building was quite new and had nice views of the boats out the window.
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Labuan itself seemed a fairly sad place to me, there were duty free shops every where selling cheap alcohol, cigarettes, perfume etc but they were empty and we weren't enticed to venture in. We simply had a nice dinner sitting outside on the pavement and then returned to the hotel for an early night.

Next morning we were up early to catch the ferry but when we got to the port we found out it had been cancelled and the next one was not for a few hours. Again we made the best of a bad situation and utilised the free wifi to search for a cheap campervan to rent in Australia, although this unfortunately does not seem to exist. Finally we were passing through Malaysia immigration and boarding a very claustrophobic boat to Brunei. Thankfully the crossing was shorter than I'd expected and suddenly every one was standing up, eager to get off even though it was another 15 minutes or so before we finally docked.

As we climbed on to land we had now reached our fifth country and we were eager to find out for ourselves whether Brunei was boring. Our time here was going to be short as we needed to move on the next day so we really only had an afternoon to soak up all that BSB had to offer. Although we initially got the taxi to take us to the bus stop it didn't appear that one would be leaving any time soon so we decided to pay a bit more for him to take us into the city.

The first thing that you notice about BSB is that it is quiet, almost eerily so.
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It is hard to actually believe that this is a capital city. Although there are cars on the road, there are not many but there are not really any people on the street either. There are only 40 taxis in the whole country. Based on our internet research we had decided to stay at a youth hostel which is attached to a local youth centre. It would mean that we would have to sleep in different dorms as boys and girls are separated, but it made the most sense money-wise. It took a little bit of time to find and then we hung around while we waited for someone to show up but after we'd filled in the necessary paperwork and stowed our bags away in our rooms we were ready to explore.

The main things we'd read that we should see in Brunei were the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the water village. As we walked out of the hostel we were still taken aback by how quiet it was, but that was what made it so interesting. Everything is very clean, modern and there is a deliberate and well thought out order to the layout. It is clearly a new city in global terms and there doesn't seem that there is the population to inflict too much wear and tear.

The mosque sits right in the heart of the city and there is a small lake in front of it where a boat has been placed. It is quite beautiful with its golden dome which glistens in the sun light.
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That is another thing we noticed about Brunei, it does seem to be quite a bit hotter than Borneo. The mosque seems untouched, as if it just sits there more as a symbol, although we could go inside we decided that we did not really have the time to.

Just a short distance from the mosque we stumbled across the water village of Kampung Ayer.
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We had both been under the impression that this would be out of town but it actually sits just on the fringes of city, stretching out into the sea by about 500m. It is a maze of over 29,000 metres of wooden walkways which link together houses, restaurants, schools, mosques and a hospital, all of which are built on stilts.
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Although it also seemed to be fairly deserted it showed much more signs of life, and we passed one school where the class were being taught the Qu'ran. We could have felt quite out of place, or almost like we were intruding but any people that we did bump into gave us nice, warm smiles. This place has a long history, people have lived here for over 1300 years and they have all the modern conveniences. It is the largest and most famous water settlement in Southeast Asia.
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Instead of walking back to the centre we decided to get one of the many water taxis that stop at the little concrete jetties which have been built. The speedboat quickly cut across the water and within minutes we were back in the modern hub of BSB.
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We wandered around a little bit more but apart from just soaking up the strangely peaceful atmosphere there wasn't a lot more that we could do. In the end we decided to catch a bus to another mosque which was just a little way out of the centre. Continuing the theme the buses were the quietest we had been on and they slowly chugged along, nothing here is done in a rush. It truly must be the most laid back capital city in the world.

We jumped off when we were told we had reached our destination and walked up to the mosque. It covers a very large area, sitting in beautifully maintained grounds, with flowers and fountains. The mosque itself is covered in mosaic and the patterns vary from being very ornate and elaborate to quite uniform.
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We walked round the perimeter and gazed up the large domed spires, architecturally it really was impressive and was great to photograph.
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Afterward we sat by one of the fountains and contemplated what we should do next, it was early evening now and we were worried the buses wouldn't run late so decided it was best to head back into the city.

Once back in the centre we had a really lovely dinner which was definitely welcomed by me as I hadn't been enjoying food that much of late. Our tummies now full we went back to the wooden walkways of Kampong Ayer and saw that a rainbow was arching across the sky, and as the evening drew on the children of the water village now free from school came out to fly their kites.
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At one point I counted 25 kites in the sky and it was so perfect in its simplicity. I think it was one of the most enjoyable moments I've had on this whole trip because it was so natural and uncomplicated, this place felt so untouched by the outside world and we were just quiet bystanders.
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Full of a nice warm, fuzzy feeling we walked back towards the hostel and now the sun had set the city had begun to twinkle with thousands of multi-coloured lights.
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They are strung above all the roads, around all the buildings and also they light up the face of the Sultan himself who is a ever present in many pictures around BSB.
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Again we had to be up at about 5:30am to catch the first bus of many to make it back to Borneo. Adam and I parted ways and agreed to meet back at the same spot in the morning, it was the first night we'd spent apart in 4 months so it was a little strange for both of us.

Once in my dorm I met up with my room mate for the night, a Chinese girl and although she told me her name I didn't quite pick it up. She was very sweet though and we chatted for a little while about her time in Brunei and the short trip she was making around Malaysia. I think she too was of the opinion that Brunei was boring but I know that both Adam and I were very pleased that we had made the effort to come here. It was definitely worth a visit, if only to see how different it is. BSB that is I couldn't extend that to the rest of the country. One day I might like to find out though.

I did not have a very restful night. I was relying on my slightly unpredictable watch to wake me up and I didn't trust it, so never got off to sleep properly. The morning soon arrived and Adam and I met at our rendezvous before trudging down to the bus station fairly bleary eyed. We had to wait about 50mins for the first bus as we'd never really been able to establish what time it left. Once on there it took about an hour and a half, on the journey we saw for the first time the oil plants and pumps which make Brunei the rich country it is.
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We then took another bus which we were only on for about half an hour, we were hoping it would take us past the Billionth (oil) Barrel monument but unfortunately it didn't. We then hopped on the bus which would take us to the border and soon enough we would once again be in Malaysia.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:57 Archived in Brunei Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Misty Mountain

and drunken tales

semi-overcast

We caught a bus bound for Kota Kinabalu which is a town on the Northern coast of Sabah. Unlike the majority of the passengers we disembarked about half way through the journey at the small village of Kundasang. It sits at the bottom of a valley and is surrounded by hills which steeply rise up all around. There wasn't great visibility when we arrived as the cloud coverage was quite dense but in the small breaks you could see that the area was stunningly beautiful.
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Pete and Jess had recommended a bed and breakfast to us and from the brief instructions I had found online we managed to find our way there. Both of us had envisaged a large home on the hillside where we would be welcomed with open arms by a Chinese man called David and his English companion Jerry. This was the impression that our Australian friends had given and they had stayed for four nights, so we thought it must have been a great place. Unfortunately our expectations were not met and it reconfirmed to me that you should never expect anything but just takes things as they come.

The house itself was single storey and was comprised of a living area for the owner David at one end and then we were shown down to the other end where they were a few rooms for guests and a shared bathroom. Initially what struck me was that it was cold, damp and in need a bit of a facelift. That said the the room we stayed in was spacious and could have accommodated six people but we had to ourselves. We took the attitude that we were here now and we would make the best of things, we had certainly stayed in worse places it only seemed bad because we had high hopes.

One of the main reasons for coming here was the opportunity to walk up into the hills and possibly into one of Borneo's many national parks. It was mid afternoon now so we needed to get a move on, unfortunately the weather still hadn't cleared but we were hopeful that we would still have an enjoyable walk. On our way out we stopped in to ask David some advice. As we entered the living area we met the other David for the first time, despite sharing the same name they could not have been more different. The owner David was very soft spoken and was really lacking charisma, he fairly matter of factly described where we should go. The second David was sitting at the head of a large wooden table and he only interjected a couple of times, he had about five empty cans of beer in front of him and was working his way through another. His would find his voice later on!

Following the directions we were given we stopped at the numerous fruit stalls we passed on the way to grab some supplies and then began to walk up a road which headed into the hills. We were somewhat disappointed when we didn't reach any kind pathway into the surrounding woodland, there was just the tarmaced road to follow. Finally there was a smaller track which we turned onto although we were still passed by cars and motorbikes. The air up here was full of moisture and it became quite misty at points.
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Despite the lack of the jungle we were hoping to explore there were lots of flora and fauna for us to photograph and we got pretty snap happy.
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For a little while we kept saying “we'll just see what's round this corner,” but in the end we had to admit that it would just be more of the same. Our jungle adventure would have to wait.

As we descended from the misty hill top the weather began to improve and the clouds lifted. Slowly but surely the scenery around us came in to view and we soon realised that as well as there being many beautiful green hills there was also a rocky mountain. It was hard to establish just how big it was because the peak was shielded from view but it seemed to be a big-un.
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Finally once we were back at the fruit stalls the mountain was completely cloud free. It didn't have any kind of conical peak but rather a craggy plateau with rocky pinnacles that broke free towards the sky. It provided a dark and almost ominous backdrop to this sleepy little town.
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We went to one of the many local eateries for dinner and we both ordered a coffee to warm us up as the temperature had now dropped quite a bit. When you order coffee in Malaysia more often than not you will be given a glass mug which contains a layer of thick, creamy liquid at the bottom, this is immensely sweet condensed milk and then the dark coffee sits on top until you give it a rigorous stir. Safe to say it is very rich but quite comforting.

When we went back outside the sun was beginning to set and it gently highlighted the wispy clouds gathered around one of the jagged pinnacles.
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The combination of low cloud and the fading light turned the sky a warm purple and the whole ambience of the place changed.
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We stood for quite some time staring out as the scene before us altered. Just over the distant hills the sky glowed orange and the contrast with the blueish purple of the sky was attention grabbing.
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Although I did get distracted for a short while by a couple of kittens that were darting around a small front garden and attempted to get some pictures when they sat still for a few moments. When all the light had disappeared from the sky we made our way back to the b&b.
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We were planning to go to Brunei the next day but were unsure how to go about it so we went back into David's living quarters to get some advice. Standing a little awkwardly at the edge of his open plan kitchen we began to ask whether there was a bus tomorrow and then were we might catch a boat. Both the David's were a little amused by our beliefs that we could make it from here to Brunei in one day and said “you better leave now.” David number two waved us in and instructed us to take a seat at the table. The number of empty beer cans in front of him had multiplied, there were now about ten or twelve and he was still going. It had obviously lubricated his vocal chords because he began to tell us why we shouldn't bother going to Brunei. Well first he asked us why we wanted to go but didn't really give us a chance to answer, he simply proclaimed that it was “boring” and also informed us it was a Muslim country, just in case we weren't aware.

We spent the next hour listening to a drunken David tell us about where we should go and that we should not go to Brunei if we just wanted to get our passport “chopped” to show our friends! One of the places he said we should go was Mulu caves because it is so big “ a er 474.. 744... a jet could be parked in it!” It was quite amusing to listen as he went round in circles and gave us little snippets about his life including all the places he had been, I'm surprised he didn't get out his passport to show us! In between the slightly incoherent ramblings he did provide us with a couple of routes to get to Brunei but still believed it would not be possible in a day. He also informed us that the large mountain was Mt Kota Kinabalu the largest mountain in Asia, so we were quite pleased we'd seen it. At one point some friends of his turned up and they sat with us for a moment before retiring to the living room to watch the tv, they seemed used to him and clearly thought it was better to just let him get on with it.

After a lot of nodding and agreeable noises we managed to make our escape and told him we would think about what to do. When we got back to the room we sifted through David's information and decided we would just get up really early and try to get to Kota Kinabulu where we could catch a boat. As we were just settling down I heard a bit of a rustling on the floor and I looked down to see two mice run into the wardrobe. A little freaked out we quickly set about closing up our bags and moving our shoes off the floor before we turned out the light. I heard a bit of rustling in the night but managed to tune it out. It was a very light sleep anyway because I knew we would have to up early and on our way once more.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:55 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

An Orangutan Encounter

and our introduction to Borneo

sunny

We caught a local mini bus to downtown Sandakan and it was a little bigger and more developed than I was expecting. Straight away it had a completely different feeling to the Philippines, it felt more Asian. Maybe this is linked to the food which you can see being cooked and eaten as you pass by the little canteen style restaurants which spill out on to the pavements. The cuisine here is much more typical of that which is enjoyed through out Asia, the Philippine diet seems much more distinct and in some ways a lot simpler.

We found a little guest house and then began to think about how we were going to fill our time here. Having only got a week to get a flavour of Borneo and also visit Brunei it was going to take a bit of planning. First things first though we were going to see the Orangutans. We'd done a bit of research and found there was a rehabilitation centre about 25km away from Sandakan and there was a bus we could catch. We had to rush a little bit because we wanted to get the next bus to be there for the afternoon feeding so we hurried to the bus stop. Once we got there we searched all the buses for the right number but the one we wanted didn't appear to be there. While looking around we noticed another western couple who seemed to be waiting. We ended up making eye contact and they wandered over to us and we soon established we all wanted to get to Sepilok the rehabilitation centre. As it appeared the bus was not coming we decided to share a taxi. After a bit of negotiation involving us walking away when the price was too high and the cabby calling us back, we clambered in and despite being tired I was really excited. Once on the way they introduced themselves as Pete and Jess from Brisbane. They were in Borneo for a holiday and had been here for about two weeks. They mentioned a place that we should go and we just generally chatted about our travels and other places they had been. They were both really friendly and it was nice to have the company.

When we got there the taxi driver threw a fit, literally, he chucked Adam's empty drink can out of the window after us when we refused to pay him more than we'd agreed. When he was gone Adam went to retrieve it and dispose of it properly. It was while we waited for the centre to open for the afternoon that our illusions of Borneo were slightly shattered. Rather naively it would seem, we had presumed that this island would be a bit of a departure from the normal travellers route. In anything I've seen or heard about Borneo it seemed to have an air of the undiscovered about it. However as we waited the number of tourists increased. Soon there was a fair few of us waiting to go in and have a magical experience.
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Despite this I was still really excited and we were one of the first to make our way into the forest. They have built a raised board walk which leads you through to a clearing where there is a larger viewing area and some incorporated benches. At this point it was just Pete, Jess, us and a few others. We stared out into the trees and suddenly we saw one.
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He climbed up on to the little feeding platform and looked over to us. I'm not sure how old he was but he certainly wasn't fully grown. To our surprise he was soon clambering over the little fence that separated us from the jungle beyond. One of the workers told us to step back as he could be slightly unpredictable, he didn't usually come here apparently.
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I was full of kind mixed emotions, on the one hand this was clearly a wild animal, well more wild than your pet cat or dog but on the other hand he was so cute and I couldn't help but be intrigued.
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We all took a few steps back and just waited to see what would happen. He seemed very intent on interacting with us, or rather with our bags as he began to approach people and try to grab on to them. The keepers had to step in and they tried to haul him away but he was having none of it and he squirmed out of their grips and even tried to bite them.
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I wasn't scared though, he just seemed like a determined toddler who wanted to explore. It turned into a bit of a battle of wills and he got free a couple more times, he moved quickly along the board walks and went towards Adam at one point. Finally though they got him under control and took him away.
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It sounds like it would have been a bit scary but I thought it was quite exhilarating and I never thought I'd get that close to them.

When he was gone the viewing area began to fill up with lots and lots of people. It was nice to have had the previous experience with a few rather than having to try and glimpse it above people's heads. We saw a couple more Orangutans but it did feel more like they were put up for us to see. One was eased up on to the feeding platform and it was entertaining to see her immerse her head fully in the food bucket but it felt a little more like a zoo.
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Towards the end they brought out a very large male and he expertly manoeuvred his way down the narrow beam on top of the fence and then up to get some food.
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Some Macaques now began to descend, trying to get in on the action but it was clear they had respect for the large Orangutan. They were very cautious and waited until he was contentedly munching before they dug in.
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After an hour or so the main event seemed to be over and we made our way back to the centre to wait for the bus. It may not have been quite the wild and unique experience that I was expecting but it was still amazing to be so close to these creatures. They really are as fascinating and charming as they appear to be on television. I just wish I could have given them a cuddle!

Once back in Sandakan we went in search of food. Unfortunately mine was not very nice and I was left feeling quite sick. Back at the guest house we got an early night, it really had been a long day and we were ready for a good nights sleep. Pete and Jess had stayed at the same place the night before and had warned us that it had been very noisy with people shouting until very late. It didn't seem to bother us as we dropped off quickly, that was until about midnight when we were both woken up by people laughing and shouting. We lay there in the dark waiting for it to stop but there was no lapse in the noise, in the end I got dressed and went out to reception. It was the hotel employees making the noise and I explained it was late and we were trying to sleep. Thankfully they were respectful and were quiet from then on, we even heard them “ssshhhh-ing” people.

The next morning I was not feeling well at all, it seemed the meal the night before had done some damage. We couldn't leave which was really annoying as we had limited time. Trying to do something useful we spent the day making use of the free wifi and trying to research where to go next. It was tricky to make a decision as everything seemed to involve getting a tour, or going on a jet to some remote part of the jungle all of which sounded like it would cost a lot. After a fairly frustrating day and feeling at a little of a loss, we fell asleep. In the morning I remembered the name of the place Pete and Jess had suggested and we established we could get a bus there. It was enroute to Brunei and so slowly a plan was beginning to form.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:53 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Last days in the Philippines

and a ferry to Borneo

sunny
View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Initially we just planned to make it back to Cagayan and we completed the return journey with no problems. However once we arrived we both felt that there wasn't a lot to the place and made the decision to just keep moving. Once we'd found the correct bus station we began to wait for one going to Pagadian City which is about half way to Zamboanga. Unfortunately we missed our chance with one and then it seemed that every bus was going to a place called Illigan which is only about a quarter of the way. It was beginning to get a little late and we were tired so we decided to go to Illigan as at least it was in the right direction.

We disembarked about an hour and a half later and set about finding a bed for the night. We avoided the few taxi drivers who wanted silly money and began to walk up the main road. It was dark by now and it was hard to know whether we were going to come across a hotel or pension house in the near future, so when a taxi pulled over we gave in and got a ride. We never could have known but it was a bit of a mistake, he took us to the pension house the other taxi drivers had mentioned which ended up being only a short distance away and he charged us way too much. He then proceeded to claim commission for bringing us there, we thought about explaining that we'd actually told him where we wanted to go but we weren't really in the mood for a squabble.

The upside was that it was a great place and was really, really cheap. Definitely the best value for money we have had in the Philippines. So once we had popped out to feel up our empty tums we fell into a contented sleep.

Next morning we walked back up to the main road and caught a jeepney to the bus station for a fraction of the price the taxi had cost us. Although we'd been assured the night before that there were buses going to Zamboanga every hour this was in fact not the case and so we boarded a bus bound for Pagadian where we would have to catch another bus. The journey went smoothly, in Pagadian we transferred to a more comfortable a/c bus with a tv which was showing a pirate dvd containing a number of disaster movies including Dantes Peak and Titanic. It made the trip go a little quicker.

Once again we arrived in the dark which is always a little frustrating because it makes you more reliant of the local tricyle/taxi drivers. You feel a little less inclined to wander around in an attempt to get your bearings when you can't see so much and you're sleepy. We squeezed into the tricycle cab with our backpacks piled on our laps and he took us to the first hotel. This one felt like it was an old mental asylum, the room we were shown was huge and the limited furniture was metal as was the door to the bathroom. I couldn't see us finding this place very relaxing. The second one was being run by completely uncommunicative staff who just kind of stared at us when we asked to see a room, and so we stood for a little while feeling like idiots before we gave up. Adam went to view the next one on his own but came back to report it was dirty and had a healthy infestation of cockroaches. When he went to look at the next the driver asked me why we didn't want the other ones and when I told him the last one had cockroaches he just laughed. This time Adam returned with a fairly resigned look on his face, it wasn't really that nice and it was quite expensive but it was the best of a bad lot.

Next morning we got up early and had a tricyle driver take us to the office of Aleson Shipping so we could buy our tickets to Borneo. After we found out how much it cost we then did a bit of running around town to get the money out and have copies of our passports made, soon enough though we had paid our passage to Sandakan, Sabah, Borneo. We had planned to get a cabin but you have to share it with two other people and in the end we decided it wasn't worth the extra money so we just went for the large a/c cabin. This was mainly because on the last over night ferry we'd been on it was much quieter and we thought we were less likely to be awoken by a Cockerel!

We spent the rest of the day walking around Zamboanga, unfortunately the weather was not great and we ended up getting quite wet. We were also slightly unnerved by the amount of attention we we received. We hadn't seen a single Westerner since we arrived, which is probably due to the bad reputation Mindanao has. There have been a few terrorist attacks especially in the West (which is where we were) over the years which I suppose has deterred people from visiting. This means that the people don't see us lot very often and as we walked along we created quite a stir. By now we are used to the prolonged stares and fits of giggles which we hear as we pass but here we people were much more vocal. They were calling out to us left, right and centre and there was no way we could even attempt to merge into the crowd. Neither of being the kind of people that crave the limelight we felt a little exposed. Still it was nice that people were so friendly and in many ways it's better than the death stares we received in India.

We visited the Fort Del Pillar which was built in the 17th Century by the Spanish as a defence against pirates and raiders of the sultans of Mindanao and Jolo. Upon the requests of the Jesuit missionaries and Bishop Fray Pedro of Cebu, the Spanish governor Don Juan Cerezo Salamanca approved the building of a stone fort in1635. The fort was originally called “Real Fuerza de San Jose.” It has faced a number of attacks over the years and has had to be rebuilt several times, it is now an outdoor Catholic Marian shrine and a museum. We sat on a bench in the outdoor shrine and watched a number of people light candles and pray.
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Afterwards we decided to go into the fort and have a look round the Marine Life museum which it is home to. We were one of only a few visitors and it had a slightly abandoned feel to it but it was reasonably interesting. They had lots of shells to look at and we managed to identify some of those we'd collected while in Camiguin. Despite the drizzle we walked round the courtyard and I snapped some shots of the pretty flowers, now I've discovered (thanks to Adam) the macro mode on my camera it's becoming a bit of an obsession!
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On our way back to the hotel we made a quick stop at the supermarket to stock up on food for our ferry journey to Borneo. Tomorrow we would be waving goodbye to the Philippines.

As we off to a new country we had to get to the port early enough to get through immigration, although this all seemed fairly pointless as they waited until they had filled the hall to capacity before they began the slow process. With the H1N1 situation every where we go we have to go through a medical check and fill in a form so this makes things even slower. In the hall we spotted a white guy which took us a little by surprise and once we were on board waiting to leave we got talking. It sounds a little silly now but we never actually exchanged names so since parting company we have “affectionally” referred to him as Fritz. I cannot tell you why.

He was a Dutch guy who had been away for 14 months and had definitely seen a lot of the world. Initially it was really nice to speak to another traveller but when he told us he wasn't bothering with most of Asia because it was “all the same” and he wasn't bothered about culture, just natural beauty he got our backs up a little bit. Nonetheless we chatted for a while and ignoring his slightly superior attitude it was good to talk. We all shared the opinion that our a/c accommodation was incredibly claustrophobic and dingy. We ended up going our separate ways when Fritz went off to find food and then we moved on to the upper deck to a couple of bunks out in the open. The boat wasn't as nice the previous over nighter we had taken but it served its purpose.
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We whiled away the hours listening to our ipods and gazing out at the sea.
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It was a spectacular sunset and we were even treated to a few brief sightings of some dolphins. They were far off in the distance but it was still quite magical, the sky looked like it was on fire and the sea was dark and mysterious.
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I thought one of the dorsal fins looked a little large to be a dolphins and could even have been a killer whale's but Adam wasn't so sure. Either way we were really happy.

We both slept relatively well and thankfully there wasn't a Cockerel in ear shot! Around 10am we began to see the coast of Sabah, which is the eastern state of the Malaysian part of Borneo. Before we were allowed onto land the Westerners, all three of us, were asked to gather in the canteen to undergo a quick interview by a Malaysian official relating to H1N1.
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I suppose as we've been travelling around they presume we're more likely to contract it and so we had to explain where we'd been and have our temperature taken. Once we'd jumped through that hoop we were set free to find out what Borneo had to offer.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:47 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Small but perfectly formed

Volcanoes, waterfalls and the best beach

sunny
View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Still a little bleary eyed from our sort of restful night aboard the ferry we managed to find our way on to a jeepney, then a bus and finally at around 8am we were making the crossing between the Mindanao mainland and Camiguin. This island is about 300 s/km and is home to five volcanoes, only one of which is still considered to be active and hasn't erupted in a few decades. So we were quite confident we weren't heading straight into the clutches of a natural disaster.
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Our guide book only had a couple of paragraphs about the island but it did mention a place to stay which was something. First we made our way by jeepney to Mambajao which is the largest town and then we got a minicab, which is basically an enclosed trailer attached to a motorbike, to takes us a little further North to the Caves Dive Resort. The main building of the hotel sat right at the edge of the beach and provided a very beautiful setting for the lovely meals we were to enjoy.
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As this a volcanic island the sand here is a chocolate brown colour, which gives the place a different feeling to the pristine white beaches we have visited. There is something more wild and undiscovered about it, this feeling may have been slightly aided by the fact that we seemed to be the only people staying.
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The bungalow style accommodation was set back amongst the palm tree groves and it was just overwhelmingly peaceful. We immediately felt an affinity with our new surroundings and in the end we would have stayed longer if time had permitted.
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Once settled we set about making the best of the time that we did have here and organised a boat to take us out to the sunken island/s. As we stood on the beach we could see two little slithers of white sitting on the glistening horizon and we knew it was worth a closer look.
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After the usual back and forth of price negotiation we were bobbing along atop the miniature waves, the island had been broken in two by the tide and we headed for the patch of sand that was completely deserted.

Once ashore we organised for a pick up in a couple of hours and we were then left alone to marvel at how amazingly gorgeous this spot was. I am not going to do it justice when I try to explain because it was not only the shallow turquoise water which surrounded the island or the unblemished white sand beneath our feet.
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Or even the view back at the volcanic island that loomed over us from this low vantage point, looking like the perfect setting for Jurassic Park or some other movie depicting prehistoric life. It was more than that, it was ours to enjoy alone, our own little slice of paradise.
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We had our own desert island and were safe in the knowledge that someone was coming to get us before we starved to death or had to make an attempt at constructing a fishing rod!
It was the first time on this trip that we haven't had to share an experience, which these days unless you charter your own jet is fairly rare. Even those who make it to the summit of Everest have to enjoy their time at the top of the world with a steady flow of other climbers. Anyway maybe you get the picture that we were happy to be alone!

We spent the next couple of hours snorkelling around in the shallow water, searching out the best shells we could find.
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We continued the hunt on land and Adam made friends with a fish.
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As our time came to an end we pooled our loot and set about a ruthless review of each specimen, discarding any which didn't make the grade until we were happy that we had a good selection. It was a very simple afternoon but it was great and when the vessel arrived to take us back we didn't really want to go.

Once back on the main island Adam did a bit more snorkelling and I sat in the sun for a little while longer. Then we quickly went to get cleaned up so we could be back in time for the sunset. It was a pretty one and we were also entertained by a few of the local men playing beach volley ball.
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Despite it appearing to be a light hearted bit of fun I could see it getting quite competitive at points and there was quite a few people who had gathered round to watch. The spectators included a couple of young girls who must have waved and said hello to us fifty plus times, they were so cute and I wanted to take a picture but felt too embarrassed to ask their mum.

When the sun had set we went and had a lovely dinner, it was the best food that I had had in the Philippines and rounded off the day perfectly. We discussed with the manageress the possibility of renting a motorbike the next day as it seemed the best way to see the island and arranged for it to be ready at 8am.

The next morning we were up bright and early, eager to get on with exploring the interior of the island. Once we had eaten breakfast, acquired two helmets instead of the one they had provided and Adam had refreshed his memory in relation to controlling the bike, we were off!
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First stop on the tour was the Walkway to The Old Volcano and The Stations of Christ. This really was just a walk which slowly climbed up the side of the volcano and at intervals along the way there were statues depicting times in the life of Christ, for example when he carried the cross. It didn't really grasp our attention, although we were a little taken aback when we reached one set of statues which had been decimated by falling rocks and now Jesus lay broken on the floor.
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We decided we weren't going to make it to the top and in any event it would take too long and there were other things we wanted to see. The next stops were firstly the soda pool, which was a public outdoor swimming pool full of natural soda water. We momentarily considered going in but in the end decided it didn't really appeal and so we headed on to the cold springs. Again this had really been made in to more of swimming pool and lacked some of the natural charm we were hoping for. There was a bit of a chill in the air as by now we were higher up and surrounded by the cover of trees so we declined a dip in the cold water and instead opted for a wander around the stalls close by.

Back on the bike once again we were looking out for a giant clam farm but there didn't seem to be any signs for it and by the time we made it back to Mambajao we had to presume we'd missed it somewhere. Although the bike was great and it gave us so much more freedom, as we didn't have to continually negotiate for people to drive us places and so on, it wasn't half hurting our rear ends! We parked up and eagerly climbed off for a walk round and a spot of lunch. Whilst stuffing our faces with another good meal we decided to go to Katibawasan Falls next and then go hunt down the giant clams.

We found the waterfall no problem and despite expecting a bit of a walk from where we paid the entrance fee, it was in fact just round the corner. It wasn't exactly a torrent of water which plummeted to the pool below but it was impressive none the less.
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The steady stream of water fell straight down 50m and the force of it was visible when it impacted with the still pool. We sat transfixed and watched it for a while, and then gazed around at the setting. Again it looked like a Pterodactyl could have swooped down or a Diplodocus could have broken through the trees in search of a drink.
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Our time at the waterfall having come to an end we went to find those giant clams. As we drove along Adam went with his gut and turned down a side road, it turned out to be a good call and soon enough we were parked up by a small white beach. We were greeted by a group of young girls who guided us toward a large wooden shack, just outside of it on a table were some very large shells. Including the largest clam shell I have ever seen.
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We had a bit more of a look round the small set up that they had and in some ways thought they could do more to lure the tourists down here, as it is an interesting natural wonder that they have to offer.

We were then offered the opportunity to go out and see the giant clams as they grow in the sea just off shore. It was a little more than maybe we were hoping to pay but we got a guide and they threw in the snorkel equipment for free. As we swam out with our guide he began to explain the names of the different clams (which I can't remember) and he also said a lot of other things which I'm afraid I can't remember. It was quite hard to view the clams and concentrate on understanding what he was saying but he was very cheery and clearly enthusiastic about the work they were doing here. It is really a conservation area and a nursery where they create the best environment possible to grow these silent giants. The biggest clams they have here grow to a massive 36 inches in diameter and they are really quite majestic as they sat nestled into the sea bed. My snorkel pipe had a hole in it so there was a continual flow of sea water filling my mouth. Our guide told me to just keep blowing it out and so as long as I kept up a Darth Vader impression it was just about bearable!

We had forgotten to bring a towel so we were a bit wet when we climbed back on the bike, soon enough though the wind would blow us dry. Our final stop was the Ardent Hot Springs and we were hoping for something a little more than the pools we'd visited earlier. The area around the springs has been made into a resort with a hotel but the springs themselves still had a rustic feel to them as they are divided up and still completely housed within the rock. It was only a quick dip as it was beginning to get dark but it was a relaxing way to end the day and eased some of our tired muscles and soothed our sore bums!

Once back at the hotel I had a quick go on the motorbike in the car park which was quite fun, although I'm not sure I want to be out on the open road! In the end we were too tired to go out for dinner and the food here was good so it wasn't a difficult decision. It turned out to be a wise choice because the heavens opened and we were hit by quite a thunderstorm. We watched the lightening brighten the sky above the sea as we ate and then we borrowed an umbrella to make the dash back to our room.

We'd had such a great time here that we were both a little sad at the thought of moving on again but we had to get to Zamboanga to catch our ferry to Borneo in just a few days.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 00:43 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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