Sri Lanka seems to have everything for the adventurous-minded. Amazing wildlife, lush mountain hikes, ancient ruins of past civilisations, colonial forts, cups of tea and relaxing beaches. But where to begin?Read more
Our final African border crossing was the Lebombo/Komatiepoort border from southern Mozambique into the northeast corner of South Africa. Wessel was excited to put his feet on home soil. We all were; the trip so far had been weeks of relentless driving, from dawn to dusk some days. We wanted to put our feet up with a cold drink, do our washing, have a long shower, a shave, compile our photos, sleep in, and watch movies.Read more
Our headlights were illuminating the tall, wooden, arched gate. ‘Welcome to Chobe national park’. Through those gates were elephants. Further beyond that was the border to Zambia. But we were in a pickle; we could go no further. It was dusk and the park was closing. The game lodge we wanted to spend the night in was still about three hours away, and the guards wouldn’t let us drive at night. What’s more, there were no hotels for many hours back the other way.Read more
I’d never hitch hiked before (or since). But for some reason, in Costa Rica, I felt emboldened to try it not once, but three times to get from place to place.
I laced my boots in my hotel room in Kathmandu, and stood up. My feet felt indestructible. They were rentals from a trekking shop in Thamel, bulky leather constructions that looked antique. This district was popular with trekkers, a labyrinthine beehive of muddy, splashing potholed streets, sleeping cows, Hindu shrines and vegetable carts. As cars, sport bikes and bicycles wriggled past each other, displays of coloured jackets and backpacks faced off against traditional woollen beanies, pashmina scarves, and leather bags. It was 7am, and time to leave. I brought my huge black backpack, only half filled and strapped down absurdly so that it was almost folded in two. It was heavy, but manageable.
The official start of the Langtang trek was the small Himalayan town of Syabrubesi, nine hours from Kathmandu by local bus, overcrowded, smelly and with plenty of roof-riding passengers. Twice we disembarked from the bus and hiked for near an hour to the next bus, in places where catastrophic landslide events had destroyed the road. Boulders from football sized to the size of houses littered the slope. I was with Nava, my guide, a young Nepali man who knew the mountain well, my companion for 8 days.
I’ve left South East Asia, and I’m pretty sad to say goodbye. Part adventure, part relaxation, but mostly just sheer madness, here are some of the best and worst of Malaysia and Vietnam (more countries to follow).
I was waiting for my boat driver on the rickety wharf at Bako national park, Borneo. The sun was hot, the bornean sky an impossible blue, and the receding tide had revealed long stretches of muddy mangrove, home to a million scurrying crabs, pulling mud from their flooded homes and rolling it into balls.
There was no shortage of monkeys here in the Malaysian jungle. Silver leaf monkeys played and jumped in the sky on a magic carpet of crawling jungle canopy. Proboscis monkeys barreled from tree to tree with clumsy urgency, their huge bulbous noses and swollen bellies making them look like living muppets. In nearby Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, the great orange apes showed us that their arms were longer than Tim’s, climbing down trees with the stealth of a dancing clown, taking four handfuls of bananas from the feeding area, and loping up their tree with the fruit grasped by each hand and foot.
While I waited for the boat, I held a plastic bag containing 3 days of jungle-ripe laundry. The scent attracted the attention of a rowdy troupe of macaques, who leapt upon the bag with fury, tearing at my laundry until I yelled and shooed them away. But thats just one bad egg. I still love monkeys!
Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of it’s association. Stone statues of cat families and sculptures of proud bronze felines overlook many of the city’s roundabouts, and adorn it’s manhole covers. Kuching has a cool charm, an easy magnetism centered around it’s riverside boardwalk and surrounding markets and restaurants. At night the boardwalk melts into two halves, an elongated, shimmering twin of coloured night lights floating carelessly in the reflection of the river. Kuching reminds me of Sydney’s Darling Harbour on a quiet weeknight. I had ten days to spend there but thought it a bit long. So I changed my plans.
The plane’s propellors whirled to a stop one by one as the pilot parked at Mulu National Park terminal. The landing had been bumpy, swerving nervously in response to imperfections on the tarmac of the jungle airstrip. ‘Jungle airstrip’, I smiled to myself. It was my childhood of Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Talespin and Tintin. Mulu National Park, in Sarawak’s far north, was an entirely different beast to Bako N.P. I liked Bako for it’s wildlife and ‘do it yourself’ trekking. Amazing natural formations were Mulu’s claim to fame, boasting some of the world’s biggest caves, tour guides a nessecity.
“Enjoy it, man”, Tom said as I walked past, a backpacker from Liverpool who was travelling with his New Zealander girlfriend, Sarah. “Will do”, I replied, as I set off into the jungle. I had met them days earlier in Kuching, capital city of Sarawak, on the West Coast of Borneo. They were sitting on the dock, waiting to take the boat back to Bako Bazaar and back to Kuching. For me, however, it was my first full day in Bako National Park, and I had chosen a 3.5km hike through the jungle to find a waterfall buried high in the mountain. I had been chatting with them the previous night, they had done the hike the previous day, and warned me of the hard work, and litres of water, required to complete it.
Bako national park is only accessible by charter boat from Bako Bazaar. The visitor’s centre and cafeteria, flanked by timber hostel rooms were all that remained of civilization. It was idyllically located, on a stretch of muddy beach, facing pristine waters of turquoise, guarded on each side by giants, sea stacks of rocks, thousands of years of erosion poking holes through the sandstone. The jungle was tall and green, palms and vines already swallowing the lodgings. From the visitor’s centre, labyrinthine trails snaked into the park, some less than kilometer, others taking over a day to finish and a speedboat to return.
The first 30 minutes on my trail were hard. The path was unmistakably easy to identify, but that’s where the comforts stopped. Clambering uphill over boulders and ancient tree roots wrestling uncomfortably over the ground, this hike required all four limbs to finish. At the plateau, I took a long drink of water. The terrain had changed to a rocky escarpment, the trees had thinned, and the sun beat down mercilessly. The humidity was 100%, temperature easily in the mid thirties, and I was bathed in sweat. I wiped my face, and droplets just as soon appeared. “Only 3 more kilometers of this. Plus the way back”, I thought.
As the hours wore on, the landscape changed from steaming jungles of palms and roots, to decrepit boardwalks passing over dry scrubland, to white-hot sandy gullies, and enchanted forests of moss-covered logs, butterflies and beams of light shooting through the canopy. I reached the waterfall after about 2 1/2 hours. It trickled down a cascade of rocks, collecting in a big brown pool. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was all about the journey there. Two Czech guys arrived, in an identical state of fatigue, disappointed with what they say. “I’ve seen better”, one of them explained.
Back at my lodge after the return journey, after a cold shower, at long last out of my singlet which had doubled in size from the weight of the perspiration, I sat on the porch and opened my book. The sky changed. An ugliness of grey filled the air and the trees in an instant. Strong winds lashed the treetops, testing the bend of the palms to their limit. At the click of a finger, the rain began to fall in buckets. Lightning and avalanches of thunder accompanied the smashing of branches, breaking of trees, and the scatter of long-tailed macaques and bearded pigs to their shelter. I watched in awe with my dorm mates, at the fury of the Borneo wet, feeling lucky to be undercover.
That was day 2. I’m back in Kuching now, in civilization, after my 3 nights in Bako, eager for a hot shower and a cold ice coffee.