Sunday, April 22, 2012

Borneo Day Three: Bako to Kuching

Our last day in Borneo started out early. We had an appointment to meet Mohammed, our boatman, on the beach at 8 AM. We got up bright and early and were greeted by long-tailed macaques on our porch. One sat in a tree and placidly watched me through a window as I brushed my teeth.
Look closely - there are 3 monkeys on the roof
and one climbing the porch railings!

We didn't linger long to watch the monkey antics, knowing that Mohammed would be expecting us. He met us on the beach, looking awfully chipper for 8 AM!
Good morning, Mohammed!

We tugged our boots off, waded out to meet him and clambered into the boat. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and it was a great chance to admire the scenery on our way out.
Can't get enough of those stunning sandstone formations

There were lots of fishermen out in the morning. I imagine it's a lot more pleasant to fish before the scorching sun starts beating full-force! The jellyfish guys were there again, still hard at work!
Jellyfish bigger than their heads!
Catchin' some fish

The ride back was over before we knew it, and we told Mohammed goodbye. At the boat place, we asked if we could hire a car to drive us back into Kuching. We were told there was a bus, but Bryan and I hadn't had breakfast and were willing to pay a few extra dollars  to expedite the process. But for your reference, if you ever end up in the same place - we later found out that the bus is super cheap, clean, fast, and comes frequently. Anyway, we ended up getting a ride from a talkative local. He really seemed to think we were silly to pay for a ride, and he offered to drop us off in his part of town for no charge at all. From there, we could take a water taxi across the river for about 50 sen each (about 15 cents USD). It seemed kind of weird that he would take us for free, and Bryan and I initially declined, but the driver was super persistent so eventually we relented.

The driver took us right to the water taxi, which ferried us across the river for 1 RM total, in a matter of about 30 seconds. Somehow we'd ended up exactly where we wanted to be quickly and almost for free. It was all a little strange.
The water taxi or bot tambang

After two solid days of Bako cafeteria food and a morning with no breakfast OR coffee, Bryan and I were really hungry and caffeine-deprived. We wandered around a bit, looking for a place with food and coffee, but didn't find much. I was getting irritable (Riley's don't handle hunger gracefully) and we decided just to bite the bullet and eat at the one place we'd seen where we knew we could get both food and coffee...McDonald's. Oh, I'm so ashamed that we would eat at Mickey D's while in a country where people are food-crazy. But I'll admit it - that was one good egg McMuffin. (Interesting sidenote: McDonald's in Malaysia doesn't have milk for your coffee!)

After breakfast, we roamed around town a bit more, just checking out the sites. We noted a bizarre devotion to cats in the city - the shops were full of cat knick-knacks, and there were huge cat statues in a couple of the roundabouts. But why?!
The city had a strange affinity for felines
(See our embarassing breakfast destination in the background)

Because we had our bags with us and a lot of time to kill before our flight, we kind of wanted to hang out somewhere for a while. It was oppressively hot outside, so we opted for air-conditioned Old Town Coffee, where we hung out and read for a few hours (Bryan and I were both deep into the Song of Ice and Fire series, and didn't mind the opportunity to dig into our books!)

After a while, we decided to walk around a bit more. We walked through Chinatown, puzzled over the presence of more cat art, and made our way to the river. We strolled along the river, admiring some of the city's unique architecture. The golden Parliament building is an especially notable presence.
Kuching Parliament Building

In the photo above, the small white fort to the left of the Parliament Building is Fort Margherita. The fort was used in the 1800's to protect Kuching from pirates. Yes, pirates. Awesome. The fort is now abandoned and inaccessible to the public, so we settled for admiring it from afar.

The hot Borneo sun and our heavy backpacks made exploring sweaty work. Before long, we retreated to the Grand Margherita Hotel's cafe, the Orchid Garden Coffee House. From there, we could sit in the air-conditioning, sip cool drinks, and enjoy the view over the Sarawak River. It was so pleasant there that we ended up relaxing until lunctime, when we decided just to eat there. Bryan had some Sarawak laksa, and I had a vegetable patty.
Our yummy lunch!

After lunch, it was time to head to the airport to catch our Air Asia flight back to Singapore. At the airport, we browsed a gift shop where we solved the mystery of Kuching's cat obsession - apparently kuching means CAT in Bahasa! Now we could head home assured that Kuching wasn't governed by a crazy cat lady or something.

Kuching was a great short trip from Singapore. It was a short flight to Kuching, and only a little further to get to the wilderness at Bako National Park. If you're looking for something to do over a holiday weekend sometime, I recommend hanging out with all the wildlife at Bako for a couple of days! We loved it!

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