Friday, June 29, 2018

Bali to Kuching (Orangutans and a poop story)

Fishermen (in their underwear) taking pictures of
 us (in our underwear--well, Matt and the boys anyway)
 taking pictures of them

Our passage from Bali to Kuching, Malaysia took about eight days and included a couple of nights of anchoring in shallow areas along the coast. Underway, we saw more boats than we have seen in awhile thanks to some narrow spots between islands that brought shipping traffic leaving or bound for Singapore into relatively close quarters.

Thankfully the AIS was spot on and we zigged a bit, and some of the supertankers zagged a bit, and everyone was happy.  But the AIS didn't help once we closed on the Borneo shore and encountered a lot of small fishing boats (we counted 49 boats in a one mile radius around us), most trawling the shallow water, but some with very hard-to-spot nets strung between the boats and shore.  These kept us on our toes, but were pretty easy to avoid as they were chugging along at only a knot or two.

Forgetting the cardinal rule: Do not make eye contact with the monkey.
The wind was flaky, but it was good enough to sail over half the time. The engines decided to misbehave a touch and Matt replaced a belt on the port engine (at 2 AM--it's always at 2 AM) and a bad relay on the starboard engine fuel pump. Compared to when we first bought the boat, these engine malfunctions are much less stressful. Matt and the engines have become like old friends (in a somewhat codependent relationship).

Edwin--not the biggest male but big enough for us.
Our first day in Kuching started out smoothly enough. We were anchored at the Santubong river, which was about a 40 minute drive outside of Kuching.  After we waited awhile at a bus stop (which turned out not to be serviced by any actual buses), a random Grab driver (the local version of Uber) came by and picked us up (since we had just arrived in the country, we didn't have a SIM card to hail one through Grab). The first order of business was to hit Customs, Immigration and the Harbor Master.  Checking in with the officials was a cake walk compared to Indonesia and only took a couple hours. 
Mama and baby
We headed to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, an orangutan rehabilitation center where they release orangutans back into the wild but set up feeding stations to encourage them to return so tourists can see them. There is a big sign up front that says that because it is the fruiting season, there is no guarantee that the orangutans will come to the feeding stations. There are two feeding times and the morning group that day had not seen any. When the workers put out the food and called the orangutans (to us, it sounded kind of like a cross between a call to prayer and something from the Lion King), nothing happened for a long time and the waiting group of about 30 tourists started to get a little restless. 

Finally, we caught a glimpse of a mother with her small baby as she swung in and climbed down to the platform. She grabbed some bananas and climbed up to the safety of a nearby tree. Later we were able to see a big male from just a few feet away, as well as (possibly) his lady and her baby. It was thrilling to see these powerful and strangely human-like creatures so close, with no barriers.

#25 at Top Spot
Later, we walked around scenic Kuching and enjoyed dinner at TopSpot, where all the locals go (Trip Advisor is worth its weight in digital gold). There are independently-run stalls filled with fresh seafood, meat and vegetables, cooked to order. We ordered way too much food, gorged ourselves, and still had leftovers enough for two more meals. We were a little worried about how much the bill would be, but it turned out to be about $30 US (for a family of four). Everything was delicious but somehow most of the food ended up being fried (we knew the calamari and soft-shelled crab would be fried and that the sweet and sour chicken might, but didn't realize that the oyster pancake was also). The waiter asked us twice whether we wanted any vegetables. I think he was concerned for our health. We ordered some mushrooms and garlic-sautéed fiddleheads as an afterthought.

The giant oyster pancake was over a foot in diameter.
WARNING: This is where it gets a bit ugly. Skip the next two paragraphs if you are squeamish or if you will be eating anytime soon. After dinner, we decided to do some grocery shopping since the anchorage in Santubong is a bit far from the stores. While there, all the fried food from dinner started to do a number on my insides. There were toilets (even the kind with seats, not the Turkish toilets that are common). But like most of the toilets we have encountered in Malaysia so far, there was no toilet paper. Instead, there was a spray hose next to the toilet. I would have used it but there was no soap at the sink and it seemed a bit unsanitary so I decided to wait.

As it turns out, I should have used the toilets when I had the chance. The 40-minutes from Kuching to Santubong was the cab ride from hell as too much fried food fought its way out. When we got to our destination, let's just say I barely made it out of the taxi and into some nearby bushes. My underwear is still in those bushes along with about a pint of my blood in the bellies of the mosquitoes that live there. Did I mention it was raining?

Not a croc from the Santubong River, fortunately.
This guy lives at the Semeggoh Nature Reserve.
When we made it to the dinghy, it was about 9 p.m. and still raining, with mosquitoes galore swarming around us. Tired after a long day, all we wanted was to get back to the boat and into bed. That's when we found that low tide had put our dinghy, which had been left happily floating at the end of the dock, squarely on the ground, with the outboard propeller stuck in the thick mud. The muck under the dinghy was too squishy to stand on, and a probing oar seemed to meet with no resistance.

With low tide still an hour away, our choices were to wait several hours (in the rain with the mosquitoes) for the tide to come up or to try to figure out a way to get the dinghy floating. As if we needed more motivation, the greasy food was starting to affect Matt's system, too. After Conrad had bailed the water out of the dinghy (it was filled with gallons of water from a storm earlier that day), Matt decided to take the plunge and stepped off the dock into the muck. He sank down to his knees, but no further. Eventually, after one tense moment when he wasn't sure if he could dislodge one of his feet, he was able to push the dingy into the water and get the dinghy floating and everyone into it.

At least no crocodiles came by. The other boats from the rally had told us that a large crocodile had taken an adult or two within the last year or so (one of said adults was severed into two parts and his head found up the river). We were told that most of the large crocs were shot but later someone said that they had seen a small one across the river. So things could have been worse.

Still not sure exactly what this was. Something
palm-tree related.
Back at the boat, we saw a huge mountain of something caught on the bridle of our anchor chain. Matt dislodged a large clump of Nipa Palm and sent it on its way.

Later, when I mentioned that I shouldn't have foregone the bathroom at the store, Matt informed me that I actually did have toilet paper. It is the paper that I carry all the time in case of emergencies but apparently forgot about in my addled state. The boys, who were fine because they did not gorge themselves (yes, we are supposedly the adults), laughed at our weak constitutions.

We have joined up with the Malaysia rally and are headed to the next meet-up spot in Miri. At Pulau Lakei, the water is a bit clearer than in the river at Santubong. We even spotted some proboscis monkeys. 

The following pictures are from the Cultural Village in Santubong. Because this blog is many-faceted. We bring you both poop and culture.

Mark trying a blow dart gun. Practice makes better...
...but not quite ready to kill their own dinner.

Paradise Flying Snake. This guy was about the
diameter of a pencil and disconcertingly fast.


  1. Gotta love those diarrhea, mosquitoes, crocodile, & engine stories.

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