Monday, November 30, 2009

Up in the Kelabit Highlands : Bario - Part 1

Up in the highlands, it certainly felt like I was worlds away, in another place, where time probably would wait for you.

Last weekend I flew to Bario on MasWings via Miri - AND I was amused to find out that you have to be weighed in together with your luggage when you check-in, as we will be onboard a Twin Otter aircraft that fits only 19 passengers.

For the first ten minutes I must admit that being slightly claustrophobic, I was kind of nervous in that tiny plane. It seemed that everything functioned 'mechanically' - seated in the first row I could see whatever the pilot and first officer were fiddling with. The commander of the flight was Captain Mendoza, a friendly and smiling man ("Come on board, everyone ... it's all business class")

Captain Mendoza. Upon landing they enjoyed hot nescafe and instant noodles at the canteen ;)

Approaching Bario airstrip, ready to land.


Align Center
Nervous passengers? The guy on the right certainly was.

Unloading the luggage.

Bario means wind.

The place I stayed at is called JungleBluesDream, run by Stephen and Tine. It has I think about 5 rooms, and also doubles up as Stephen's art gallery.

Meet Stephen.

And Tine :)

The story of Stephen and Tine. Viking Girl meets Kelabit warrior :)

Can I just say that I LOVE my room. Simple yet comfortable. Warm quilt. The painted wall was lovely.
Look - isn't this lovely to look at? Love the details.

And I did something uncharacteristic, that is, I unpacked all my clothes immediately. I've never done that, ever.

It's always the most simplest of food that gives you most pleasure. Our meals were all tasty and yummy, in generous portions. Plenty of local vegetables, which I enjoyed very much. Tine's pumpkin soup is out of this world. As is Stephen's pumpkin puff. Oh and they bake their own bread too for breakfast :) Despite the long walks and treks I actually think I put on some weight.

Pumpkin puffs and bread.

Local veg and corn.

During the day it's really quiet all around. Gen-sets are usually only switched on from 1830-2130 hrs, after that it's lights out. The first afternoon, I caught up with another guest (Tai, geophysicist-turned-school teacher) and went for walk around Bario.

There are no roads in Bario. What is deemed as roads are rough, bumpy stretches of dirtroads that turn muddy when it rains. The only vehicles you see here are twin-cabs, which also serve as taxis especially for visitors. Most locals use motorbikes as well, even kids. The 'road' network is quiet good though. Using Stephen's hand drawn maps we could navigate the village easily.

They do have a 'town centre', three rows of small shops and eating places. Things are understandably pricey here - a can of Coke is RM3, a gallon of fuel is RM20. I wanted to buy some Bario rice but not much was available. There is also a basic Klinik Kesihatan and an Immigration Office; the new Klinik Kesihatan project looks like it's been abandoned, don't think it can be ready by January by the looks of it.

Oh and they have a police station too - but we were told that the two police officers have nothing much to do since it's such a quiet peaceful place, so they have 'setup' an alternative office at one of the coffeeshops. Haha :p

View of World Challenge View Point, behind SMK Bario.

We climbed and climbed and were rewarded with this gorgeous 360 view of the valley.

Wind turbines at a distance.

Carved signages like these are common. Nice.

In front of Idris Jala's family house, just down the road from JungleBlues. His parents were away that weekend, otherwise we were told that they welcome visitors anytime.

JungleBlues Dream is located in the village of Ulung Palang, up on a small hill. The longhouse has two other families; and is clean, spacious and airy. Stephen's creative works is all around, he's quite well known overseas and has buyers mostly from Europe. I saw a few newspaper articles on his works too, which are mostly modern interpretations of the Orang Ulu motifs and patterns, and some of nature. I wish I can own one original piece from him. Oh and I found out that his brother had designed parts of the Sarawak Cultural Village...artistic family.

Dining Area.

Wall near 2nd main door, Ground Floor.

Wall near entrance, 1st floor.

Living/reading/lepak area, 1st floor.

At the dining area.

1st Floor, where the guestrooms are located.

My favourite - in my room.

It felt good to be surrounded with creativity in the middle of nowhere :)

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Tis The Season To Be Jolly

It's 25th November today, which makes it 29 days before Christmas, and 36 days before we welcome a brand new year. If my math is correct.

I have not made up my mind where I will be travelling to next month; we'll see.

Anyway, I can't help but admire these wonderful elegant Xmas decor; it really gives that festive holiday feeling and makes me want to sing tra la la la la la la la la :)

My new year resolutions? None at the moment. Just hoping that my travel plans for 2010 will all be A-okay.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Love : by Robert Indiana

The other day I saw this sculpture in a TV show about New York, can't remember which one probably something on Channel 707.

This iconic pop art piece by Robert Indiana has been depicted on TV and many movies, yet I never bothered to find out more until recently. Google it for more information; I just wonder why we do not have art pieces like this in our country. It should read 'CINTA', no?

I want to take a picture next to one, apparently there is one in Singapore, that's the nearest. Where in Singapore - have to find that one out.
"Amor" -in Piazza della Scala, Milan.

In JFK Plaza, "Love Park", Philly.

"Ahava" - love in Hebrew; Jerusalem.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Travel News : Koolred

Check out the new online community/social networking site from AirAsia's partner, Koolred.

It says, 'if travelling is your passion, get connected now!'

Will see how interesting this turns out to be, since I'm now bored with Facebook. Maybe I can find a travel buddy for next year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where, and What Now

Stood on the corner of Jupiter and Mars.

Sometimes life wants you to decide which direction you want to go.

I get that feeling sometimes.

Or maybe I just like signposts and overanalyse too much.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Travel News : Air Asia's Convenience Fee, Update

Grabbed from the AA website :

Convenience Fee
With effect from 5 November 2009, a Convenience Fee is now applicable for all online payments made via credit, debit or charge cards. Please see below for more details on the fee.

What is Convenience Fee?

A convenience fee is charged when payment is made through credit, debit or charge cards. The fee is charged per guest for each way and only applies to the initial booking. Any changes or addition to existing booking is excluded from the Convenience Fee.

Why is the fee introduced?

To ensure that our guests are provided a comfortable and safe booking environment AirAsia has invested substantially to expand, implement and maintain our online payment systems and especially, to upgrade, enhance and improve the security features for online credit, debit and charge cards payments. The Convenience Fee is to subsidize the costs of the payment systems.

Are there other payment options which do not attract a Convenience Fee?

Yes, the Convenience Fee does not apply to direct debit payments.

* * *

So when you are buying that free seat that's on sale right now, remember to add on RM10 to the ticket price.

Happy travelling!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nature Appreciation in Sukau

I underestimated Sukau.

Didn't expect that I would enjoy nature that much, and I am glad I went ahead despite not having a solid plan to reach Sukau. As this is my third Sandakan trip in the space of a year, I was pretty confident that I could get there on my own.

After managing to get to Kg Sukau on pirated transportation - because I didn't have the budget for packages :( - I checked into my lodgings and immediately spent the whole afternoon napping due to a massive headache that did not go away even after dinner. Gah. The heat does this to me way too often.

Anyhow, since I was the only one there that evening I couldn't go on the cruise anyway as the minimum was 2 pax to go. Hmmph. The bane of solo travellers. Decided to let it go and wait for the next day's cruises.

Where I stayed - Sukau Greenview B&B.

The reception and restaurant across the road.

Hammock, albeit not a very wide one.

This was where I spent mornings and afternoons reading and napping. On the second day there was no electricity in the whole village. Eerily quiet, devoid of any sounds from TVs and radios. I walked the whole length of the kampung.

I was luckier the next day as another guest had checked in, so off we went for the afternoon cruise to Menanggol and later after dinner for the night cruise.

I really, really like boat rides so seeing the wildlife and jungle were added super bonus :) At first I put on the life jacket provided like any other good tourist (and I figured that the crocodiles would have a tough time biting through that nylon, and that bright orange colour would put them off in the first place). Halfway through I removed it cos it was warm, kept it at arm's length, just in case.

Heading towards Menanggol. Soft breeze, evening sun. Bliss.

Towards Menanggol (actually I am not sure if Menanggol is the place or the name of the river :P)

So what did I see? Sadly not the pygmy elephants, although the boat which had left earlier saw two rogues. Didn't take that many pics and hopefully I've got the names correct. Wildlife sighted : kingfishers, owls, rhinoceros hornbills, black hornbills, Borneon Gibbon, Leopard Cat, monkeys galore - proboscis and macaques, snakes like Pope Pit's Viper (?) and yellow banded mangrove snake - in addition to various insects and butterflies. The guide had these wildlife books as reference and they were really handy for the non-informed like me.

Macaques putting on a show.

During the night cruise, the highlight was .... The Milky Way! If only I can take a picture of that very very starry sky - the stars were like tiny twinkling diamonds. It was so beautiful that I shut up and just sat in the boat looking up to the skies. Darn, I need to re-read the constellations.

Heading out from the jetty.

Leopard cat - only managed to capture its gleaming eyes.

Blue-eared kingfisher. I think. Or maybe its the common kingfisher.

Stork billed Kingfisher (?)

On Sunday I left for Sepilok very early via a proper minibus direct from Sukau. After checking in my lodging, I walked over to Sepilok in time for the morning feeding. There's a different alpha male now, I don't remember seeing the mighty CID before. Thankfully it wasn't a really big crowd although there were a group of very young school children who kept getting reminded to keep silent. Oh, they have guards with whistles now to do that, I don't remember the guards from previous visits.

After SORC, I trooped it to the RDC which was skipped on the last trip, arriving there hot and sweating and immediately sought refuge in its cool, airconditioned exhibition hall. What a relief! Decided to follow some of the trails and go up the observatory tower, from Bristlehead to Trogon. It rained when I was halfway along the trails so I hurried it up and decided to take a rest. For such a large area, it looked quite deserted, in fact I was the only one on the trails that day. Bumped into other visitors on the canopy walkway and near the lake.

Favourite tree - the menggaris - en route to Trogon Tower.

What? Only 11m and my legs were already like jelly. Maybe I should forget about Sydney Bridge then.

For the longest time, I have this weird recurring nightmare of melting through metal grilles like this.

Survived that - wasn't so bad :)

Next time I really want to see the elephants, and perhaps brave the leeches and go for that early morning cruise and trek at the Ox Bow Lake. Overall, a happy trip - with only one major mosquito bite, which I just discovered yesterday.

Being out in Nature definitely rocks; maybe there's a Jungle Jane in me after all :). We'll see.