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Rivers and Headhunters

Hello, we've still not been eaten by crocodiles, fallen off a boat (although it has come close a couple of times, not being known for my grace and elegance...) or anything else which could be considered deadly!

Since I last wrote, we have travelled from Kuching to Sibu by overnight bus, and on up the Redang River from Sibu to Belaga by "express boat".

The bus journey was horrible - but it could have been worse... there were three very nice volunteer teachers on the bus from the UK. Mike and I, being naive, wet behind the ears travellers had dressed for the weather - shorts and t-shirts, and stowed everything else in the boot of the coach... Nice teacher lady told us that we were likely to freeze if we didn't find something warm to put over us - and sure enough, we had to endure sub arctic conditions in the middle of the tropics (Why??? just because you Have air conditioning, surely you don't have to make it painful...)

At 4:30am we arrived in Sibu - and then immediately continued on a boat up to Kapit. Sibu is not renowned for being a nice place, but we really weren't there long enough to find out... not even long enough to look at the Chinese Pagoda... never mind eh?

I think the designer of the express boats, which are the life line to people up the river, intended them to be like an aeroplane - streamlined like a torpedo (top speed of about 60km/h), with reasonably comfortable seats and seperate cabins for 1st class and 2nd class (we sat in 1st because we could, and it cost a quid more - I bet I'm more careful with money by the end of the year!)

However, I don't think they'd ever seen an aeroplane, let alone been on board. And The air-conditioning was every bit as cold as the bus. can you imagine the sort of mood I was in - freezing cold at 5am... did the boat driver know that he was playing with fire? I don't think he could do much about it though...

The reason we'd bothered travelling up the Redang at all was to have a chance to see the longhouses that the local tribe people still live in. they are built on stilts beside the river, and the concept is a bit like a block of terraced houses in the old days... Except, the people living in a longhouse all belong to one tribe.

It is meant to be difficult to arrange to go to a longhouse... however, we were in Kapit for approximately 24 hours, and three different tour touts tried to sell us a trip to a longhouse... ("you pay me, and we take gifts - sweets for children and cigarettes for old men... then the tribes will put on a show - they like having visitors...") No thanks - I'm sure it would be fascinating - but only in the same way that a visit to Longleat safari park is fascinating... so we changed our minds about going to a longhouse...

However, we did go on a longboat trip into the jungle with a bloke called Ham who was brought up in a longhouse ("I live in town - we have clean water and the children go to schoola" - like most of the younger tribe people). Ham now runs a hamburger stall in Belaga (and takes tourists up the river in his spare time...) I don't know whether he was called "Ham" before he opened the hamburger stall though...

Anyway, Mike, two other tourists and I all climbed into a VERY unstable little boat and went up river... ("are there crocodiles?" - "Oh yes...")

It was great - Ham led the way, slicing through the forest with his big chopper (hee hee - I only said that to be rude!) - known as a "Parang". At one point I felt like Indiana Jones, as we went (in the boat) under a tree which had fallen across the river. Spiders - Pah!

The best part of the day was when Mike got bitten by an ant! that'll teach him for underestimating their power - I knew I was right to scream hysterically each time I saw one.

Since then we've been to a big cave which had three 'features'; lots of bat and bird poo, which is very valuable as fertiliser - hence people spend their lives poking around in it; birds nests, which are considered to be a good ingredient for soup by the chinese (??? the people who collect these have to climb about 100 feet up flimsy bamboo poles... in the dark - rather them than me); and archeologists, who also spend a lot of time poking around in poo. (we actually got talking to one of the archeologists who was saying they use the guano layers to date stuff in the same way that they use ice... a bit technical for me - but it sounds horrible anyway.

We then spent two nights in Brunei, which has the dubious pleasure of being up there with Singapore as the most expensive places to stay in SE Asia... and No Beer!!!!!

However, it's not really that expensive in the greater scheme of things... our hotel was about GBP12 per night, and whilst it wasn't the Ritz - it was OK. But it IS that dry (mind you, I drank two cans of 'Tiger Beer' the other night, and I was wasted - nothing new there then...)

The best thing about Brunei was getting water taxis everywhere... they're little wooden speed boats which whip up and down the river around the local villages (all built on stilts). It wasn't so good in the rain though...

We also visited a mosque (it seems a bit silly to go to Brunei and not visit a mosque really...). I dressed with as much decorum as I could muster (ok, I probably smell a little...) with a long skirt, and I even had a head scarf - not enough! I was handed a black gown to wear which reached from my neck and was a foot too long - I looked like an evil smurf... it's ok - Mike has taken a photo...

Now we're in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, which is just like Sarawak, but more expensive (and more touristy).

Tomorrow we're off to climb Mount Kinabalu - which is quite big (about 4100M... I did say after Ben Nevis no more mountains... just this one) then we're off to West Malaysia for some beach!

again, any tips gratefully received...