May 252014
 

Palm oil – something that I had`nt even heard of 5 years ago – has now spread like a plague around the world. There is much controversy surrounding this oil, and most people today have some understanding of why palm oil is bad.

oil nuts

oil nuts

Palm oil has been used by people in Asia for decades as cooking oil, and as an additive in chips,cookies,candy,sauces and a hundred other things. As long as we were travelling in Asia, it was impossible to boycott palm oil, then we would have starved! As long as this consumption was concentrated in Asia it was sort-of under control, But in recent years, Western manufacturers started using it in every possible product. Palm oil is in fact cheaper than other oils, and since money is everything in today's world it was soo being used in everything from shampoo to chocolate spreads,biscuits and cheap chocolates.

Oljepalmer inni "beskyttet sone"

Oil palms inside a “protected zone”

Bio-fuel is one of the biggest reasons for the increase in palm oil production in recent years. Environmental Scientists and Greenpeace have made it quite clear that using vehicles powered by bio fuels is significantly more polluting than using regular gasoline. One must take into consideration the environmental consequences of cutting down millions of sqft of rainforest, which would otherwise be producing both oxygen and absorb CO2.
There is no reason why products in Europe and the United States should contain palm oil, There are many good(and marginally more expensive) alternatives. The use of palm oil helps make the wealthy industrialist even more wealthy, but has no benefit for the man on the street.
there has also been some studies to show that palm oil is damaging to the health.. Palm oil increases the bad type of cholesterol, and increases the risk of heart disease.
There is something called CSPO- certified sustainable palm oil – which is oil that comes from plantations that are able to better safeguarding of the environment,and no damage to regnskogen. They also have better social and economic standards of work-people. There is no official “Authorization” for “ethical” palm oil, so therefore it is impossible to know what is actually in the product containing palm oil. Within it actually legal to only sell products with CSPO, then it's probably no one is going to care about putting it on the pack.

Before I went to Borneo so I knew that palm oil was unethical and rainforest-destructive, but just how bad the situation actually was I really did`nt know until I saw it with my own eyes. I had always imagined Borneo as an exotic destination with abundant rainforest and wildlife all around. I must admit that Donald Duck has a lot to do with that image. He spent a lot of time travelling to Borneo, and every time he grasped for a liana it turned out to be a boa snake. My experience of Borneo was very different. Malaysian Borneo is very densely populated, many small towns and lots of industry. you have to look hard to find any rainforest. It's not just palm oil production which is obliterating the rainforest . In Sarawak province we drove past a giant industrial complex that was continually spewing out thick smoke. We learned that this was an aluminum smelter that was powered by electricity from a hydropower plant. To build the hydropower plant they had cut down enormous areas of forest, and almost all the power produced is used to run polluting industries that require even more deforestation. We soon found out that the “jungle-adventure” that we were hoping for, could not be easily arranged. The only surviving rainforest in Borneo is found in small,scattered reservoars , and the few who actually still have wild orangutans charges a lot of money from the tourists.

Some protected forest

Some protected forest

In the Sabah province(east-Borneo) we got a real sense of how little forest there is left. We were on a bus for 6 hours, and we saw no sign of any forrest or trees. There was only ugly palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see – mile after mile covering the open landscape,..

palms as far as the eye can see

palms as far as the eye can see

Only a few years ago all this land was covered with fertile and beautiful rainforest, whereas now there was nothing but pure capitalism in practice. The locals told us that all these plantations were owned by Chinese people. You can always count on the Chinese to destroy nature,eradicate species/biodiversity with a smile on their face at the though of all that money. The worst thing is that to get the people to support them, these Chinese capitalists incorporated their propaganda into the school system.

A protected orangutan

A protected orangutan

away with rainforest !!

away with rainforest !!

The kids are taught from an early age that there is nothing better than palm oil, and teachers are given sponsored trips to palm oil plantations for effective brainwashing. Most of the capital collected from harvesting the oil returns to China, or into the hands of corrupt politicians in Malaysia/Indonesia. It is quite sad that the local natives who have always lived in harmony with the forrest are now surrounded by useless palms., and have not received any compensation for the loss of their livelyhood. The only solution left for these people was to start working for palm oil plantations, earning pocket change. The capitalists who own the plantations have also imported cheap labor from Indonesia, which has forced the wages even lower.
This is a great documentary that focuses on the problem

An orangutan journey from jungle to hell…quite kjiip documentary on hard facts..

I would recommend anyone to Norway to check on the package that the chips / chocolate / biscuit / shampoo in the store do not contain palm oil. It is especially cheap goods of the store chain's own production containing palm oil. Disposal,coop and kiwi their goods, one should be extra suspicious of. Freia uses palm oil in assorted chocolates and chocolate sauces FY!

Have you ever got yourself a surprise when you examined the contents of a product that you have purchased ?
check Palmeoljeguide the Rainforest Foundation. If you are only going to donate to a cause as it is to save the rainforest definitely the main: Done Rings

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Dec 152013
 

 

At first we stayed outside the city in an area called Sepilok. It is next to Borneos number 1 tourist attraction - an orangutan rescue and rehabilitation center . The people at Sepilok have taken in orangutans who have become homeless after the evil palm oil plantation-owners have cut down their homes. As a rule the plantation owners think that selling orangutan babies as pets is yet another great way of making money on the rainforest, but this rescue center has managed to save some of them.

Orangutans playing

Orangutans playing

Hordes of people at Sepilok

Hordes of people at Sepilok

They have a small patch of rainforest, which is protected, where orangutans can live in peace. Every day they put out fruit 2 times a day, and the orangutans can choose whether they want to come for feeding or not. Fewer orangutans is a good thing as it means they can find food in the forest themselves, and they are not so dependent on people.

There were plenty of people the day we visited the place, actually we expected it considering how many people are coming to Borneo to see orangutans, an animal that is almost extinct because of palm oil.
We went to see both the morning and afternoon-feeding just to stand and observe the giant apes in the semi-wild. When you manage to block out the 300 other people (most of them Chinese and screaming children) standing at the feeding platform, it is an amazingly beautiful sight. Several of the females had babies hanging on their bellies, which is a good sign when it comes to conservation of the flock!

Torunn and Stig in Borneo

Torunn and Stig in Borneo

They jumped back and forth, flung themselves on the ropes, ate coconuts while hanging upside down, and some made an obvious show for the many people who came to see.

Sepilok Orangutan på 2

Sepilok Orangutan på 2

Rainforest discovery centre

Rainforest discovery centre

After the feeding we walked some of the few available paths through the rainforest in the hope of getting some orangutans to ourselves for a little while. It did not happen… men det var en fin skog uansett 😉
We also spent a day at a rainforest center that was right by where we stayed. It was a nice area where there were opportunities to see many birds found only in Borneo. There was a nice "canopy- walkway" above the trees and gave a good insight into the size of the forest. We saw some pretty cool birds, called rhinoceros toucans with a giant beak. They look totally and completely like something pulled straight out of prehistoric times.
They showed a video about conservation and about the loss of habitat in Borneo later in the day, so we decided to come back to see the videos. It was some of the worst rubbish I've ever seen. We were absolutely shocked at how such a nice place could show movies that were that stupid, but it is clear that the entire centre is funded by the corrupt "forestry department" and oil palm plantations. There was a video about some local teachers who were on a course to learn about how important it is to be kind to the environment and such.P1050465 So they had to go to an oil plantation for a thorough dose of brainwashing that they could pass on to the children. It was finally clear to me why none of the locals we talked to understood that oil palms were stupid- the government and the oil palm guys have brainwashed the people to continue to make money on destroying the rainforest and all the animals.

Eternal oil palm plantations

Eternal oil palm plantations

The teacher in the film said; "Before, I thought that oil palm was stupid, but now we have learned that it is very environmentally friendly and good " . According this propaganda the oil palm plantations work by the mantra "the 3 P `s - Planet, people and profit” . The most important thing for them is that the planet is doing well, how great is that?. After the massive destruction of thousands of years old rainforest, and by contamination of soil, water and air through giant oil extraction plants they are really fond of the planet. There was even a clip where a worker drank a can of coke and threw the can into a recycling bin, what an effort!!
After the complete and total exploitation of cheap labor to pick oil nuts under inhumane conditions they are really very fond of the people. Profit always comes last in the oil plantation.
Then there was a movie from the "Sabah forestry department" that was at least as bad. They sat with quite serious facial expressions talking about how much good they have done for the rainforest lately. A rainforest that almost does not exist anymore. There was also a lot of talk about "sustainable" logging of the rain forest to get timber. Any idiot knows that there is no way to cut down 1000 year-old forest in a sustainable way! When you cut down rainforest you cant just grow a new forest. The soil dies with the rainforest. All the nutrient in the soil disappear. They get people to believe that it's okay as long as they plant a new tree for every tree they cut down. It was very disappointing to see such capitalist propaganda in such a nice rainforest center. Those who have made the films should be lobotomised.

Our Malaysian friend – Gordon
In the afternoon we met a nice Malaysian named Gordon. He would be our only couchsurfing-host in Malaysia. He was kind enough to pick us up from the middle of nowhere, and took us to Sandakan town. On the way there he took us to a very stylish and large Buddhist temple on a small mountain just above Sandakan.

Sandakan seen from temple

Sandakan seen from temple

It was a very good view and many nice dragons and swaztikas at the temple. It's certainly somewhere we had never gone without a friendly local to take us. After the temple, he took us to a restaurant that only served satay. Satay is one of the largest contributions from Malaysia to the world cuisine. It is a particularly type of peanut-based sauce that you put on chicken or beef skewers. Gordon lives in a large and comfortable house in an upper class neighborhood. He is the manager of a local bank.
P1050528 He is one of the most generous and hospitable couchsurfers we've ever stayed with. He took us out, drove us around, paid for most of our meals, and even did our laundry. We put on a load of laundry one night before going to bed, and in the morning he had hung all our clothes out to dry! It was better service than most hotels!

Together with Gordon in Sandakan

Together with Gordon in Sandakan

We had one day in Sandakan, and we went to a crocodile farm. I have been in crocodile farms in Asia before, and had an idea it was going to be bad, but not as bad as it actually was. The whole place was dirty and dilapidated, and crocodiles were stuffed

Verdens fossilized crocodile show..

Verdens fossilized crocodile show..

up in a crowded small algae green pool. Most of the crocodiles were seriously deformed, probably by vitamin deficiencies from a poor diet. One of the crocodiles was at least 6-7 meters long and on the sign it said; “ I am Harry. I used to live in a river close to a village, but after I ate 4 people I was caught and transported here. Now I only eat one chicken each day” .
There were also some other animals there, but they were in an even worse state. The poor monkeys in a cage on a concrete floor without any ropes or branches to climb on was the worst. Malaysian teenagers walked past the cage and kept laughing while doing their best to stress the monkeys more than they already were.

Stig with cats

Stig with cats

The crocodile show was a complete failure. It consisted of only 3 men who stabbed a crocodile with bamboo sticks for half an hour. I think they tried to get it out of the pool, but there was no way to tell because they never said a word either to the public or each other.
We also visited a memorial park for Australian prisoners of war from World War II, which proved to be considerably more interesting than watching the torture of crocodiles. During World War II the Japanese imprisoned 6000 Australians who had fought against them. All the prisoners except 6 men died in prison camps. In the memory park one can read the stories of the men who survived, and it sounded like they had had a pretty lousy time.
We also spent half a day in Sandakan town. There's really not much to say about the city….just another, dirty and uninspiring city in Asia.
The next day we took a very bad and frustratingly inefficient bus to Kota Kinabalu. The whole night was spent at airports and in various derelict airplanes until we landed in Bohol in the Philippines!

 Posted by at 12:47 pm
Dec 152013
 

After 2 days on the island we headed further north towards a jungle-river called the Kinabatangan, where we were going on a river cruise in search of orangutans and other wildlife. The bus from Semporna was supposed to take us to a small village called Lahud Datu, where the plan was to stay overnight. The bus-guys dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and just laughed when we tried to ask if we had arrived in Lahud Datu. It was already dark and we were confused walking along some houses next to the highway. After a lot of stress back and forth we found out that we were far from Lahud Datu which we had paid the bus to take us to…

Our guide

Our guide

We had been tricked. It cost a small fortune to take a taxi to get to the town which the bus was supposed to take us, and when we got there we found out that the hotels were of a particularly low standard. It was one of those typical dismal travel day.
The journey the next day was just as difficult.

At the bus station we were told that the minibus going north left at 11. We got there at 11, and at 13.00 we sat in the same place and nothing happened. They refused to leave unless the bus was packed, although there were many other people there. We were so mad that we got our money back and went to find alternative transportation. We then found out that there was no alternative transport, So then we made a desperate attempt to hitchhike. That worked quite well, we got to the right road and stopped a minibus going our direction.

Eternal oil palm plantations

Eternal oil palm plantations

Travelling around Sabah, and in Borneo in general is not a pretty sight. I had always imagined Borneo as an island full of raw, beautiful and unspoiled rainforest, but the only thing we saw for 8 hours of buses was palm oil plantations. As far as the eye could see there were palm trees, or newly cleared areas for future palm trees. It is absolutely horrible to see how much they have totally destroyed of some of the last remaining rainforest on the planet. Absolutely awful to see it for real. So much destruction just to make cooking oil, cheap chocolate and fried chicken. I've always heard that Borneo is the place in the world with the fastest logging of the rainforests, but had not imagined quite how bad it was. At least we are determined not to buy anything containing palm oil, but in Asia it is quite impossible. Almost everything in the stores contain palm oil, so if you want to eat then you have to eat palm oil.

Palm-oil hell everywhere

Palm-oil hell everywhere

There were palm trees as far as the eye could see at the expense of the rainforest, and all the animals that live there. We found that there are very few places left in Borneo where you can actually experience the rainforest, and the places that are left are horribly expensive to go to, and to stay in. We went to a special river that supposedly have some surviving rainforest left. Since the rest of the rainforest in the area has turned into palm oil plantations, all the rainforest animals have gathered in a small area which the plantation-owners still have not managed to obtain, which I am sure that they would if they could.

 

 

 

Cruising the KinabatanganHa Ha
We arrived to a very small village right on the river and stayed in a so-called homestay where you live with a local family. They were a friendly bunch who made food for us and told us about their lives and about the forest. The husband told us that just a few years ago there were many elephants walking through the village, but now they are cut off due to new palm plantations in the area. The route which the pygmy elephants had used for thousands of years has been fenced off. The plantations have even installed electric fencing so that no animals are able to walk through the plantation.

The family we stayed with in Kinabatangan

The family we stayed with in Kinabatangan

We arrived just in time for our boatman to take us on a trip up the river. It was a nice river, and a very relaxing way to experience it. We saw several groups of monkeys along the riverside.

Boat trip in Borneo

Boat trip in Borneo

monkey-grooming

monkey-grooming

Most were Maquaques which have no problem living their lives even with a boat of tourists just 2 meters from the group. The proboscis monkeys were much more shy, and mostly ran away when they heard boats or people. It's probably not a bad idea considering how few of them are left due to people's idiotic greed at the expense of all other life. It was fun to see them in action. The entire flock would move from one tree to the next, and formed a long line to make the big jump. One by one they jumped to the next tree, and the boss-monkey jumped last. He was so big that the branches were about to break. The boss is the one who has the biggest nose. Whoever has the biggest nose gets all the ladies, simply. Would have been nice if there was a similar system among people, then we would not have to experience all the drama that happens when men fight over women.
We did 3 river cruises during our second day.

Proboscis Monkey !

Proboscis Monkey !

We got up at 05.30 to homemade Malaysian breakfast, which is mostly fried noodles or rice with fried egg. Then we went out to see the wildlife at sunrise. Sadly, we found no elephants, orangutans or gibbons, but they do exist in this tiny spot of rainforest. For lunch the wife in the family did a cooking class for us. It was a fairly speedy affair. She put large amounts of butter, sugar and then lots of brown sugar together and we were allowed to stir this diabetes-bomb until it became a homogeneous mass. It was then put into molds, fried and served with coffee. Malaysians like (as most Asians do) having large amounts of sugar in most of what they eat and drink. A coffee without 10 spoons of sugar is unheard of. That's why we had to send the coffee back at least 3 times before they actually stopped putting sugar in it. Many places had only instant coffee of the 3-in-1 version which has sugar and milk powder along with the coffee. It tastes nothing like coffee…more like a sweet hot chocolate minus the chocolate taste.

Stig helping out in the kitchen

Stig helping out in the kitchen

In the afternoon we went out and walked around a little in the rainforest. We had leech socks and big rubber boots, but I still managed to get a small blood-sucking leach on me. We saw lots of elephant tracks, and fresh elephant poop, but no elephants. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to find an elephant! Ironically enough we found a pygmy squirrel instead. With its 5 centimeter it is the world's smallest squirrel, and looks more like a bug. We saw some flying praying mantis also, which definitely is the most clumsy flying insect I have ever seen.
Back in our house we were served another Malaysian dinner consisting of rice and a nondescript fried meat.
After 2 days we said thank you and goodbye to our family and continued the journey north to the town of Sandakan.

Family visit in Malaysia

Family visit in Malaysia

 

 

 

 Posted by at 12:10 in the morning
Dec 142013
 

We took the boat back to Malaysia where we got stuck one night on a small island called Labuan. We struggled very hard to find a cheap place to stay on Labuan. We ended up having to share a room with a Brit who we met on the boat from Brunei.
Labuan was not much to write home about, but at least there was lots of cheap booze there, I`ll give them that.
The boat trip to Kota Kinabalu took 3 hours ,and was quite undramatic. We ended up spending 5 days without really doing anything. We did not have enough energy to run around looking for attractions. After 13 months on the road it is nice to just be able to chill out in an airconditioned room for a few days.

Chilli for sale

Chilli for sale

 

We went out drinking a few times with Johnny from England. One evening we went to the most dubious-looking karaoke-pub I've seen in a long time. There was a handful of local patriots there. We swept them off their feet with our wonderful singing voices and quick dancing feet. It was a night we will remember for a long time, especially me and Torunn `s duet of Britney Spears` "Oops I did it again" - instant classic.
We visited the night market in Kota Kinabalu, apparently the best market in Malaysia. There was a lot of strange stuff for sale there. Tons of fish and shellfish that were ready for grilling. Hopefully everything was fished "Sustainably" hahahaha, like that word exists in Asia..…. We bought one crab each that was cooked in chilli sauce for us. It turned out to be a lot of work for very little meat, but it was good.

Torunn in market

Torunn in market

We ended up buying a lot of stuff that we had never tasted before. The best way to experience such market is to snack a little on everything they offer, incidentally also the best way of securing food poisoning., One just has to hope for no acute abdominal problems.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Malaysia is to climb up the mountain which lies right by Kota Kinabalu city. We did some research and figured out that it was way to much of a tourist-trap, and way overpriced. . Once Malaysia finds out that something is popular among tourists is the same day they decide to add lots of silly "taxes and fees". "Conservation fee" very rarely goes toward conservation, but most often in the pockets of some high-ranking official person. There is a hostel that is halfway up the mountain where they take 1200 norwegian kroner(200$) for one night in a 14 person dormitory without heat (when it is 0 C in the air). It is pure exploitation.

pier with 1 million Chinese

pier with 1 million Chinese

We went instead to some islands that were outside the coast of Kota Kinabalu. It turned out to be just as much of a tourist trap as the mountain.

Beach life...

Beach life…

We came to a small island with the most-populated beach I have ever seen. In addition we had to pay a ridiculous "conservation fee" to be allowed to relax on the beach for a couple of hours. The Conservation fee oviously was`nt spent on cleaning up the large amounts of garbage in the water, and in the sand around the island. There were thousands of Chinese tourists - the worst kind of tourists, without consideration or moderation. They waddled around with life jackets and snorkel masks without even realizing how stupid they looked. It was a bit of a wasted journey for us who have had so many incredibly perfect Caribbean beaches to ourselves on this journey.

From Kota Kinabalu we went south in the province of Sabah. We ended up in a sad, dirty town called Semporna. This town is known to be a a bit dangerous because there are various groups of militant muslims in the area. The only reason to go there is as a stepping stone to the reef and islands located an hour's boat ride from town.
We took the first boat to the islands the next morning, and found a decent place to stay on an island called Mabul. It was lovely to get away from city, and from traffic. I hate noisy traffic, especially in Asia. We stayed in a stilt house, with water beneath our room. It's lovely to lie in bed listening to the waves, but not having the rolling feeling that you have on a boat. We walked around the island and found that there were many poor locals living there.

Begging children

Begging children

I have no idea why they lived on an island far out at sea with close to no job opportunities, but I'm not sure if there were any adults in the village as we just saw hundreds of kids. There are perhaps a few adults there with an extreme need to reproduce, real baby-machines. In the water outside our hotel there were several derelict canoes with young naked children begging for money. I can not stand seeing people who are unable to feed themselves produce lots of children just to get sympathy points when begging.
We did some diving around the islands and the reef. Sipadan reef is known as one of the 5 best places in the world to dive. It did not disappoint! It was fantastic with plenty of life the minute we left the surface.

cute fish in coral

cute fish in coral

There were lots of fish that I had never seen before, and we had close contact with 5 giant sea turtles on the first dive!

Malaysian turtle

Malaysian turtle

We saw some of the coolest seahorses I've ever seen. They were identical to the corals where they lived. They even had coral-like pieces sticking out of their body here and there so that it is impossible to see any kind of shape. Without the divemaster we had never been able to find them.

He also found another fish called "frogfish", which was also complete and totally identical to the background. He pointed it out to me. I was 10 cm from the fish and wondered why he pointed to a random soft coral before I actually realized it was a fish.

Crocodile fish

Crocodile fish

On one of the dive sites, off an island called Kapilay, they had built lots of underwater houses. Inside the houses there were lots of fish and corals .

Camouflaged seahorse

Camouflaged seahorse

We were very satisfied with the diving, and got back to a dinner served. The menu was dried fish with old rice. Not exactly a gourmet meal, but we were so happy after the diving we would have eaten anything.
All in all we were very pleased that we got to dive there, even though we did not go to the Sipadan dive-site. It's too popular to dive there, so you usually have to secure a spot several weeks in advance. They only hand out 400 licenses for diving every day. In previous years there has been a large amount of exploitation of the reef, which has done very much damage.
After 2 days we went back to Semporna and continued the journey north. Our next adventure was going to be a river cruise with orangutans on the Kinabatangan River

 Posted by at 4:54 pm
Dec 102013
 

The next day was a long travel day as we went directly to Brunei Darussalam, a super-conservative muslim country. The border-crossing to Brunei was possibly the easiest border-crossing I have ever experienced. We just sat in the car while the driver gave the border guards our passports. They stamped our passport without a word, and we were on our way to the capital Bandi Seri Begawan. It was not difficult to see that we were in another country - along the road there were billboards and propaganda for Islam and Mohammed. Brunei has the most islamic community throughout South-East Asia. On the radio it was very difficult to find something that was not about either Mohammed or Allah, 2 topics that you really would think had been over-discussed.
2 hours after the border we arrived to one of the smallest capital cities I have ever been in. There are around 150 000 people in Bandar Seri Begawan, but most of the inhabitants live outside the city.

The main square in Bandar Seri Begawan

The main square in Bandar Seri Begawan

Our hospital-room

Our hospital-room

We went there without having anywhere to stay. I had contacted a couchsurfer, but she canceled at the last minute so we were left helpless with our backpacks. Suddenly the rain began to pour, so we went inside a mall. Eventually we found out that Brunei was terribly expensive. When we finally found the only "budget" hotel in town, we ended up paying over 200 kroner (40$) for one of the most rotten hotels we've ever stayed in. It was a converted hospital, and it really felt like one. We had a oblong hospital room to ourselves, and it was easy to imagine that our bed had been the final resting place of many Bruneians.
The toilets in the shared bathrooms were nasty holes in the floor, and the walls were bright green with algae and mold. We shortened our stay in Brunei from 3 nights to 1 night.

Another thing that is special about Brunei is that there is not a drop of alcohol to be obtained in the country. Yet another reason to not spend more than 2 days here! We have a tradition that we always take a beer picture in each country, with the national beer and something that is typical for the country in the background. This was difficult in Brunei, so we went to the supermarket to find any beverage that had been produced in Brunei. The only thing we found was water! So instead of a beer-picture we took a water-picture in front of the mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan. You take what you have!

There is not a lot of spectacular sights in Bandar Seri Begawan, but the city felt completely different from other cities in Asia, I guess you can say it was typical Bruneian.

Muslim versions of us

Muslim versions of us

There were pictures of the Sultan everywhere, all the buildings were covered with his face. This probably had something to do with the fact that we were there on his 67th birthday. Brunei has a lot of money from oil, and the people there are generally much richer than other Asians. They even have a welfare system where everyone has free medical, dental and social benefits. Taxes are almost non-existent. Brunei is also the country in Asia where they have kept most of their rainforest, simply because they do not need the money that they could have made chopping it down. Tourist infrastructure is also virtually non-existent because they do not need the income from tourists either. This is why we skipped our plans to visit the jungle in Brunei, since it is almost impossible to go without joining expensive organised tours.
There is a pretty cool mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan – The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque It dominates the city skyline . We went inside it after we had put on full clothing to cover our sinful hair and our sinful knees. We would not want to insult Allah and his friends, we could easily get into trouble.

Muslim-Torunn

Muslim-Torunn

We also went to the "floating village". It is a village on stilts in the water. There are many houses in the village, many of them look like they would fall apart with the slightest puff of wind. This is where all the poorest Bruneians live. It was interesting to see how they lived. There were even mosques and shops on stilts there. The water was very polluted and full of garbage everywhere. You'd think the world's richest head of state could grant some money to clean up a little.
In the evening we experienced a genuine Brunei Night Market. It is quite similar to other Asian night markets - chaotic and disorganised with people and food everywhere. We got to try some local favorites. I had a Papa Johns - which is a special Brunei Roti, with chicken and herbs in a wrap. There were also a lot of barbecues to choose from. I realised a little too late that the skewer I had just devoured was marinated cow lung. I also had a skewer with the mandatory chicken small intestine, of course, which I washed down with a seriously cheap and nasty salty drink with corn and cabbage floating on top. There are no salty drinks that are good, that's just wrong!

Market in Brunei

Market in Brunei

We also saw a local show with lots of Bruneians in Brunei-costumes singing and dancing. We lost some interest when they began a painstaking long play that was about Allah.
The next day we took the bus to another town where we would take a boat to Malaysia. On the way we drove past a huge decorated palace which actually turned out to be the world's most expensive hotel, the world's only 6 star hotel. A room there costs 17 000$ . It was built by Prince Jefe who is the little brother of the sultan. In a very unwise moment the Sultan granted the post of finance minister to Jefe.

Stilt-village in the river

Stilt-village in the river

It was like giving a child free access to the candy-dish. Jefe began buying 2500 cars for himself, everyone knows that it's nice to have some extra cars in case one of them breaks down. He also bought houses in umpteen countries, and he spent a billion dollars to build a guest palace (which was later turned into the 6-star hotel) for his friends. It cost almost as much as the Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. There were 200 bathrooms, all with bathtubs made of gold. When the Sultan finally stopped Jefe he had wasted something like 16 billion dollars just on himself. Imagine how much good a person with a functioning brain could have used that money on !

We took the boat back to Malaysia where we got stuck one night on a small island called Labuan. We struggled very hard to find a cheap place to stay on Labuan. We ended up having to share a room with a brit we met on the boat from Brunei.

 Posted by at 9:35 in the morning
Dec 092013
 

 

Kuching
Kuching was a breath of fresh air after 2 months in clean, neat and tidy countries. Now I was back to the real Asia. I had been in Malaysia before, but never Borneo. Borneo has always seemed to be a rather exotic destination to me. I always imagined an island of unspoiled rainforest, a few small towns, but otherwise just forest and wildlife everywhere.

National Day in Malaysia

National Day in Malaysia

That illusion was quickly crushed. Kuching is a charming enough city, as far as a city in Asia can be charming. We stayed at a small hostel on the outskirts of town, and spent the first day exploring our surroundings. The food was very good, and very cheap. There was no problem getting a meal for 5-10 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". A good and complete meal. And we were never sick, although we ate everything that we came across!

Kuching!

Kuching!

There were noodles, rice and various curry dishes. We took the time to visit some museums. It was quite a long time since we had been to a museum, and the ones in Kuching were free, but not terribly interesting. When we were inside the museum there was a loud noise as if the whole place was about to collapse. We ran outside and saw that it came from low flying jetplanes. That was something we saw almost every day in Kuching. Very bad for the environment and lots of noise-pollution having jetplanes practicing maneuvers just above the town. As we walked to the town center there were thousands of kids waving their flags, and thousands of military marching. There were 50 th anniversary of Malaysia, a really big deal and lots of stuff going on.

Orangutan

Orangutan

We spent a lot of time at the hostel where we drank beer and met a Kiwi, a German and a Brit. We went to an orangutan-center named Semengoh. Semengoh is a protected part of a forest that has not been cut down by greedy Chinese people, and the orangutans live there in the wild. The problem is that the forest area is too small for the orangutans to find enough food, so the sanctuary staff must feed them every day. Not all of the orangutans will show up for the feeding, which is a good sign – they find their own food. It's mostly juveniles and mothers with babies who come to the feeding as they need more food. We got there just in time for the feeding at 3, and found out that there were approximately 100 other tourists who had had the same idea. The orangutans showed up and did a little show for us where they flung themselves around the ropes and jumped from tree to tree. One orangutan had a baby on her back and fruit in 3 legs while she was hanging in the rope with her 4th leg. They are insanely strong, and they have no ligaments around their joints, which means that they can twist their legs in the most crazy positions imaginable. We sat around for a long time and studied the interaction between a small teenager orangutan and his mother. The teenager wanted to play and bent the bushes back and forth, while the mother was trying to have a nap after a lot of work opening a coconut. It is a very small area of ​​rainforest they have managed to preserve for them. The surrounding area is very industrial with heavy traffic, palm oil plantations and ugly buildings.

Bako National Park in Borneo
We went to another national park called Bako the next day. We spent one night here in a cabin on the beach. The first day we walked around with our 3 new friends.

Torunn with friends

Torunn with friends

We walked through the forest until we found a little secluded beach. There we met on a long-nosed hairy pig, and a group of proboscis monkeys. Proboscis Monkeys (nose-monkeys) are found only in Borneo. They are really cool guys. We saw a large group from the beach. They seemed quite happy where they jumped around in their tree. We went back to our cabins and had a beer before we went on our next trek.

jungle-pigs..

jungle-pigs..

We went 3 kilometers through thick jungle until we found a small waterfall and a swimming-hole. It was delicious and refreshing to swim a little and cool down in the pool. It was lovely until something in the water bit me in the ass, at which point I gave up on the swimming. There was also a concern that I had just seen a 1,5 meter long "Goanna" near the water. The sandals I had bought 5 days earlier in Australia completely fell apart, so I ended up walking barefoot through the jungle on the way back. Miraculously enough, I got no leeches on me. The rain was pouring down all the way back to camp, so we were soaking wet when we got to the beach.

Torunn with monkey in the sunset

Torunn with monkey in the sunset

On the beach we were surprised by a group of Maqaque monkeys with bad intentions. I had a small bag in my hand containing miscellaneous garbage that we had brought back from the jungle. The leader of the pack came towards me and flashed his teeth in a very threatening manner. I threw my bag on the ground before it jumped on me. They are smart enough to know exactly what it takes to get what they want, In this case my plastic bag. The pack rummaged through the bag until they found a small package with strong throat lozenges. The boss of the pack ate all my lozenges and disappeared into the jungle. I'm not a monkey-expert, but I can not imagine that would be good for his stomach…well well, the villain deserved it.

Bako National Park

Bako National Park

After dark we went on an organized "night walk". It was rewarding, we got to see a "flying lemur",

The spider

The spider

frogs, scorpions, weird cave insects, deadly snakes and large cats. We stopped and greeted the boys. They shared a dorm. We felt a bit sorry for the 2 boys who had to share a room with the New Zealander who was staying for 3 days and only had brought a bag containing 3 beers. In the jungle we were sweating constantly, so it is impossible to smell nice after 3 days without a change of clothes!

In the morning when we walked from our cottage to the breakfast area we were attacked by a gang of opportunistic monkeys. The leader jumped on Torunns backpack, and she stood perfectly still to avoid any unnecessary aggression. The monkey was looking for a packet of biscuits that was visible in the outer pocket of the bag. Suddenly there was an older gentleman with fire in his eyes walking by. He hit the monkey with his walking stick, which led to the chief monkey commanding the rest of the pack to attack the man. A bunch of angry monkeys came running towards the man, but he was actually wild enough to be able to chase the gang away without getting bitten. At the canteen the monkeys were a big problem. There were cheeky monkeys everywhere jumping up on the tables while people were eating, looking for goodies. That's how it gets when you feed wild monkeys. Me and Torunn spent the rest of the day exploring the lush rainforest in the park. We met many more proboscis monkeys and various other creatures.

Batu Niah – giant cave with annoying bats !
After the jungle we spent some days in the urban jungle of Kuching before we took a flight deeper into Borneo. We ended up in a very pathetic village called Batu Niah, where there was only one room free in the entire town, and it was the most dreary "hotel". All the hotels were full since it was Malaysia's 50th birthday. We went there just to see one of the largest caves - Niah cave.

Heading into the giant cave..

Heading into the giant cave..

It was a very large cave. We have been in many caves, but this one was impressive. It had a pretty high ceiling, and in the air we could see thousands of swallows, and even more bats later in the evening. Torunn did not thrive in the cave because there were naturally many spiders and insects there. The walls were full of swallows' nests.

Stig in a very large cave

Stig in a very large cave

The locals climb the walls to collect nests as they are a local delicacy in Malaysia. We never tried it. The birds excrete a special type of saliva to get the nest to stay together. It is reportedly their saliva that contributes to the flavour. Not very nice for the birds that need a nest to lay their eggs, and where their babies can stay until they learn to fly.
We used our headlights for what they were worth when we walked through a darkened part of the cave. The worst thing about the cave-exploration was that the bats were very aggressive, one of them even crashed with my ear. Since our lights were attracting flying insects, the insects attracted bats, so we ended up with a bunch of pursuers.
On the other side of the cave we ended up in a gigantic hall where there was at least a hundred meters below the ceiling. In the roof there was a big opening where the daylight shone through and down to the bottom. Very magical atmosphere. There were also some almost invisible cave-paintings there, but they were not very exciting.

 Posted by at 1:38 pm