Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Wonderfully Wild Adventures of Jungle Girl - Borneo, Part I

In all of years traveling (ten, to be exact), I have found only just a few countries that entirely captivated me. I now add Borneo to that list. This simple, unstructured jungle paradise has captured my heart and my soul in the rawest of ways. I am not talking about being impressed with the beautiful landscapes – I can go to Pulau Aur for that. I am not talking about its bustling metropolis – I can go to Kuala Lumpur for that. Borneo
has devoured me with the simplest of things, like the joy on the children’s faces, the way that the cool breeze comes in at dusk and the slow pace of its existence.

Borneo is a diamond in the rough. And rough it is indeed. The jungles are deep and the stories of them are true. Yes, there are killer bees, giant sea snakes and wild beasts that roam the night and while urban Kuching (the main city of Sarawak, the western province of Borneo) does spread for some distance, it does not take long before you leave the developed area and enter this wilderness that Borneo is so famous for.

Village House, Santubong

In the flurry of organizing to come to Borneo at the last minute on Thursday morning, I had found myself a home stay that had been rated highly on a travel website. Still being ill, I wanted to immerse myself in nature, but stay somewhere that was relatively civilized so that I could sleep comfortably if I needed to. Willing to take a leap of faith, I telephoned the homestay, organized a bed and did the mercy dash to the flight.

On Thursday evening, I arrived in the village of Santubong, which is situated about 45 minutes from Kuching by taxi. The taxi then turned down a dirt road, which we rocked and bumped our way down momentarily, until we reached the homestay. As the gates opened at Village House, I was greeted by the warm smile of Stephanie, one of the homestay’s employees. She overwhelmed me with her friendliness, asking me about myself and where I had come from and why I had come to Borneo. She happily returned the favour by telling me about herself. The locked gates of the homestay opened to reveal paradise. I felt like I had walked into the Sheraton at some tropical island resort. Frangapani trees hung over a long crystal clear pool, empty hammocks were rocking gently in the breeze, incense consumed my sense of smell and in the background was soft traditional malay relaxation music. I was in heaven.

Noticing that the sky was getting darker and upon Stephanie’s recommendation, I put down my bags at the door of the resort and hurried out the gates and 100 metres down the dirt road to the beach. As I reached the end of the road, the sun was just setting on the horizon and as it did, it cast a magical glow across the landscape. In just an hour of being in Borneo, I witnessed a spectacular show of natural beauty and I was awestruck.

After wandering the beach around for an hour, taking photos and watching two young boys casting off fishing nets out into the ocean, I went back to the tranquil resort. I had not even reached the door before Lawrence, the homestay’s manager came out to greet me and accompany me to the eating area. While I spoke with Lawrence, Stephanie and Paula came out from the bar area to take my order for dinner and drinks and no sooner was I then ushered to the dinner area to eat my traditional Malay dinner of Beef Randang (at Stephanie’s recommendation). After dinner, I retreated to the hammock which was hanging between two large palm trees and allowed my dinner to settle before heading off to bed.

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