A Travellerspoint blog


Back to civilisation

After 5 months of destitution our epic journey across Asia has finally come to an end: it is time to integrate ourselves back into society and once again maintain the appearance of respectable human beings. But this will not come without its difficulties; it will be a challenge to rid ourselves of the sub-human habits we have acquired through backpacking for so long.

Every so often we have to remind ourselves that it is no longer acceptable to pee by the roadside; we are secretly searching for a house fitted with a squat toilet; we still carry toilet paper in our handbag; we have to resist the urge to cut our toenails in public; we are re-learning to use cutlery instead of our hands to eat; we lament the lack of boiling water taps in public areas in which to make instant noodles and coffee at our convenience; we are supressing the urge to carry our plastic coffee flask around in public and to use our hand sanitiser before eating.

But on the positive side we are somewhat relieved not to worry about sharing our bed with fleas, cockroaches or bedbugs; we have a new appreciation for soap, sinks, clean toilet pans, freshly brewed coffee, hygeine and personal space.

Finally, once again we have a fixed abode, long-term employment, dignity, and we are (semi) respectable tax-paying citizens with reasonable standards of hygeine.

Posted by dodging_cholera 00:21 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Borneo: is that another kingfisher?

We should have gone to the Phillipines...

Sandakan, Malaysian Borneo, is a strong candidate for the ugliest city on earth. For some reason we selected Malaysian Borneo from the alternative choices of Sulawesi and the Philippines as the location to meet 3 of our friends from home who were flying out for a week of sun, sand and fun. In retrospect, this was the wrong destination on all accounts. Sun: it was monsoon season; sand: beaches were apparently scarce and inaccessible; fun: being an Islamic state, alcohol was hard to come by and night life barely existent. Still, we endeavoured to make the most of it...

We arrived in Sandakan at 6pm on a weekday and were dismayed to find that the town was dead except for 2 canteens which promptly closed before we had time to finish eating. Trusting the Lonely Planet's description of the neighbouring night life district which was apparently packed with clubs and bars, frequented by expats - we headed down there in search of better things. Disappointingly, this in fact turned out to be a few empty clubs and karaoke bars-cum-brothels bursting with Chinese hookers in obscene hot pants and overweight, sleazy Chinese men (with a distinct absence of expats or in fact respectable human beings of any description). Needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb. Braving the karaoke we decided to make the most of the situation. The first blow came when we discovered that they only served beer; it then became clear that we were actually expected to participate in karaoke...at least our attempt couldn't be any worse than the screeching with reckless abandon we had already borne witness to...we hoped.

The Kinabatangan river was our next destination and is one of the main attractions in Borneo where wild elephants and crocodiles, among other wildlife, roam freely in abundance and are guaranteed to be seen on a boat ride through the river (so we were informed). After the third boat cruise and witnessing the 50th kingfisher, with no manifestation of elephants or crocodiles we were quite frankly losing the ability to be excited by tiny, colourful birds (also it had failed to stop raining for the entire time).

Despite being a tropical island, Borneo has a distinct lack of accessible beaches. Nevertheless, the Lonely Planet (yes, foolishly we still trusted their recommendations) described an untouched island close to Sandakan that was easily reached by boat. Excited by the prospect of a beach (and the fact that it stopped raining for all of 4 hours), it was hardly the tropical paradise we had expected....Barely 10cm of sand, littered with trash. Our ever hospitable boat driver offered to take us to a 'better' island for double the price (clearly it had been an elaborate scam from the beginning). Out of desperation we agreed to this arse rape of a deal. After approximately 1 hour of waiting around, changing boats, an exchange of cash between too many hands and a painfully slow boat ride through coral, we eventually reached the 'better' island. Indeed, so much better that it had a 3 metre patch of sand without any trash.

Collectively, we have never been so happy to leave a holiday destination. Warning: if you're considering going to Borneo - just don't. Go to the Phillipines instead.

Posted by dodging_cholera 22:22 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Indonesia: the elusive ferry to Kalimantan

How many people can you fit on one ship?

A lot of my time in Indonesia was spent trying to figure out the ferry connections between islands and waiting in random ports for ferries to manifest. For some reason in Eastern Indonesia the ferry schedules are surprisingly elusive: none of the tourist agencies are really sure when they will leave and for the most part it is a case of turning up at the port and hoping for the best (this is probably due to the lack of a tourist market for 30 hour journeys between islands). However, I appeared to be in luck when my ferry from Sulawesi to Kalimantan turned up in the right port on the predicted day.

Assured that there would be barely any other passengers on the ferry (seriously, who else would endure 30 hours on a boat?); I was grossly mistaken. The ferry was overflowing with Indonesians...I didn't think it was possible to fit THAT many people into such a confined space. They were literally EVERYWHERE, hundreds of them; and that's not even mentioning the mountains of boxes and cases of shit that had to be piled up. There was not even a square centimetre of space in which to walk! Being the only white person out of the 500+ passengers on the ferry, I was pretty conspicuous. Each time I attempted to walk anywhere I was greeted with cries of 'hello mister' (apparently a universal greeting of foreigners, regardless of sex). Obviously this was not at all irritating.

Some of us were lucky enough to have 'matresses' to lie on. Other more unfortunate souls had to sleep on scraps of cardboard or whatever other material they were able to find. It turned out that 'my' matress actually 'belonged' to a family and after a mini dispute, I inadvertedly ended up sharing it with a mother, 2 kids and a grandmother. Lying on the floor amongst dirt, squeezed between my backpack and a screaming kid with cockroaches crawling over me, I wondered why I had decided to take this method of transport over a 2 hour flight, and how was I going to get through the next 24 hours? The kid did not fail to stop screeching the entire 2 nights of the journey.

Without a doubt the worst experience of the journey was the bathroom. As the ferry had grossly exceeded its capacity there were simply not enough bathrooms and each trip would involve waiting in a crowd for at least half and hour. Every female passenger on the ship insisted on having a 'shower' with the bum-gun in the toilet cubicles, whilst filthy water flooded out into the corridoor so our feet were constantly submerged ankle deep in other people's dirt. For God's sake I only wanted to pee; after going for a week without showering in Mongolia, I found this incredibly vain for a 2 day journey!

I no longer have any barriers regarding personal space.

I have been stripped of all standards of hygeine.

I vow never to take another journey longer than 24 hours.

Posted by dodging_cholera 23:41 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Bali: there's no surf...

It seems that the only topic of conversation in Kuta is the surf - or lack of it. For some reason we thought it would be a good idea to start off our Indonesian journey in Kuta - Bali's surfing Mecca (or not, so we were informed by reliable sources...). Imagine all the worst aspects of a tacky resort in Malaga, minus the nice beaches, throw in a few hundred intoxicated Australian rednecks: this is Kuta. A stroll down the street would be violated by constant heckles of 'hello darling, want to buy a ....' (insert as appropriate). We couldn't sit on the beach without someone trying to sell us a surf lesson every 5 minutes ( the answer is still no), that and the constant torrential rainfall (it was rainy season after all). Our highlight has to be the incredible nightlife and clientele we met there. Drinking copious amounts of arak in an attempt to counteract the disappointment of our predicament, we were soon approached by a group of drunken Australians. Being incredibly amicable people who love interacting with new people, we (attempted to) engage in conversation. After approximately the fifth time of hearing (yet again...) that 'there's no surf' in Bali, I hate to admit it, but we were bored. Not appearing to be perceptive of subtle social cues, we eventually had to leave the bar in order to escape. We swiftly moved on to the Gili islands....and that is a whole other story (the new low: being high-fived by your hotel owner...).

Posted by dodging_cholera 05:52 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Burma: destined for cholera

The case of the toilet vegetable and the manure meal

The majority of our time in Burma was spent waiting in anticipation to develop cholera and trying not to starve: the food was universally disgusting and inedible. We frequented numerous types of eateries so as not to be biased: restaurants, street-side stands, bus station canteens, yet we were still unable to find a single edible meal. There were 2 contenders for the worst meal. Out of desperation we once at at a bus station - reluctantly selecting our meals from a sorry looking selection of dishes that appeared to have been sitting there since the beginning of time. My dish of unidentifiable vegetable had the pungent yet unmistakable taste of manure, whilst J struggled with some unidentifiable 'meat'. The second contender was our mini-banquet at a relatively up-market (for Burma anyway...) restaurant. We carefully chose the least offensive looking dishes, yet to our dismay we were brought a whole selection of additional plates (which under normal circumstance we would relish...). The most notable was a platter of raw chopped vegetables, in the absence of any accompanying garnish or sauce - mostly identifiable except for one that we named the 'toilet vegetable' due to its taste that could only be likened to the smell of latrines. Accompanying this was a side dish resembling raw sewage which tasted of nothing less than that.
Surprisingly we managed to survive Burma without contracting cholera (or any other gastro-intestinal infection for that matter). Our first port of call at KL airport, I'm sorry to say, was the golden arches of civilisation (McDonalds)...

Posted by dodging_cholera 05:20 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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